Archives for the month of: November, 2014

I’ve been single for over two years now. It’s weird, as that’s the longest I’ve been alone since I was 19. I say alone, but obviously I’m not alone, I have people, I have a tribe, for want of a better collective noun.
But still, sometimes, I think to myself, is this it?
Is my future just me?
And if it is, how do I deal with that? How does anyone deal with that?
Part of who we are is about needing to belong, to be wanted, both by groups of people, and individuals. The strength of this feeling is strong. It makes us talk to complete strangers, it makes us share stories, emotions, feelings, all in order to create a link with another soul.
We need this, I need this. It’s a matter of survival. It’s a matter of life.

The possibility of being without that, of knowing it’s a reality that becomes more likely the longer I stay single, is honestly really fucking scary.
People do it, I know not everyone gets the story they deserve, and they survive, they live, they deal with it. It’s just, well, I’m not one of those people. I don’t want to be one of those people.
I don’t want to deal with it, even though, ultimately, that’s exactly what I will have to do as, in actuality, I fear I am one of those people.

I want to write about Ferguson. But I’m a white middle class transwoman, living in one of the safest places in the world.
I’ve never had to worry about someone, someone who’s supposedly there to protect and serve me, instead murdering me. My life is relatively safe.
I’ve never had to think about how the colour of my skin might impact my own safety. I’ve never had to think about the colour of my skin full stop.
Never having to think about something that can have the gravest of impacts in regards to another persons life is a privilege.
And that privilege can blind us to seeing, it can blind us to caring. It makes us think that it doesn’t matter to us, that because it doesn’t affect us directly that it’ll all settle down soon, and things will go on like they’ve always gone on.

Thing is though it does affect us. Every 28 hours an African American is killed by law enforcement, or a security guard, or a “vigilante” claiming self-defence.
How can that not affect us? How can that not make us go what the actual fuck? How can that not make us angry?
I’m a white person, and I’m angry and I’m shocked. I’m scared by the rising tide of racism happening right now, both here in the Uk, and elsewhere. I can’t even begin to imagine what the anger, the shock, and the fear must be like for someone of colour.
So what can we do?, What can I do?

A friend of mine put it like this.

Learn about Ferguson. Learn about the racialised history of America. Speak the truth. Understand oppression and racism. Fear. Understand the pain. Heartache. Understand the anger. Disbelief. Speak the truth. Don’t be afraid to be unpopular. Don’t give up. Speak the truth. Black lives matter.

Below are a few of the articles I’ve been reading whilst learning about what’s happening in Ferguson…

Ferguson, goddamn: No indictment for Darren Wilson is no surprise. This is why we protest.

Some white people still think Mike Brown’s death isn’t about race.

White Cop Shoots Unarmed Black Guy for No Goddamn Reason at All

Racism is so insidious, even black people underestimate it.

‘We Still Don’t Have Justice’: An Open Letter From Ferguson Protesters and Supporters.

LQTU! Stands in Solidarity With the Brave Protesters in Ferguson and Beyond.

There’s a narrative that goes something along the lines of Trans people have always known they’re Trans.
It’s nearly always one of the first things people ask me about when we talk about Trans stuff. I’ve been asked the question “When did you know?” more times than I can count, and when I answer that question, and tell people that I didn’t really know till I was a teenager, and that I didn’t fully form exactly what my identity was till I got to my thirties, there’s often an element of surprise in people’s eyes.
Sometimes there’s an element of judgement there as well. I can see them thinking, but if she didn’t know till then, how can she be sure now? Surely all Trans people just know?

Thing is, there are Trans people who haven’t always known, but that doesn’t make their identities any less Trans than someone who’s always known.
I sometimes think that maybe, if you have to ask, then asking “How did you know” is a more important question than “When did you know?”

So, how did I know?
There were two essential things that let me know what it meant to feel what I felt.
Language and knowledge.
Seems obvious right, if we can communicate how we feel, then we can understand what it is, and find out what we need to do.
Today it’s pretty easy to find out what it means to feel things, the Internet changed everything when it comes to freedom of knowledge, and with that change came greater visibility, and with greater visibility it became easier to find others that feel how you feel. Yeah Internet!
Thing is though, it wasn’t always like that. I grew up in the seventies and eighties, in the last century. (Sounds dramatic when it’s put like that doesn’t it?)
There was no internet then, there was virtually zero visibility for Trans people, and so I had no reference point as to how I felt. As a teenager I genuinely believed I was the only person alive who felt like this. Imagine my absolute fucking surprise when I found out I wasn’t.
That’s when I really started to form my identity as a Trans woman, once I had the knowledge and language, once I discovered I wasn’t alone.
Even then it took a long time. It’s only really now, thanks to a ton of reading, a reasonably large amount of therapy, and the support of truly amazing friends and family that I’ve really got it pinned down.
This is why asking a Trans person when they knew isn’t helpful, or in any way insightful to understanding what it means to be Trans. Knowing that I started understanding that I was Trans when I was a teenager doesn’t give any context to that fact. All that most people get from this is that it doesn’t fit with the narrative of always knowing.
Ask me how I knew though and suddenly things have context. There are reasons, emotions, and ultimately understanding.

The preconception, that all Trans people have always known, is ultimately damaging. It doesn’t help anyone, and that should be reason enough to stop doing it.
Maybe though that isn’t enough, maybe you need more reasons?

How about the fact that it also devalues the identity of those who haven’t always known, and it stigmatises an already stigmatised identity even more.
Or that it creates a hierarchy of validity, which is incredibly destructive, and hurtful to many, many Trans people.
Oh, and yeah it can also divide communities, and damage personal identities, both of which are fundamental to our existence in this world.

Yeah, that’s probably enough reasons.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a quitter, I like to think, once I go for something, I’m there for the long haul, like a dog with a log, never letting go, all focus channelled into the task at hand.
Thing is, over the last year, I’ve realised this is sort of true, but not always in a good way.

Yeah, I’m tenacious, but often it’s only in relation to hopeless situations.

That no quit attitude? Only there when it comes to putting myself down and chipping away at my own self esteem.

And being overwhelmingly focused on the task at hand? Well, yes, if the task at hand is taking on everything negative that happens to me as being a fault with me.
Yeah, I’m very good at not quitting when it comes to things I hate.

I think, if many of us were honest with ourselves, we’d probably have similar experiences.
If you break up with someone say, it’s hard not to see fault in yourself. In fact, quite often the other person in the relationship will help you with that as well, and by help I obviously mean brutal character assassination.

I know my self esteem can be a fragile thing. It’s like its made of ice, any heat will melt it pretty fast, and god help us all if you go for it with a hammer. I try and build it up as best I can, but after a while it starts to become the norm that it will melt away, and once that happens it becomes much harder to sort it out.
I think that’s because there’s comfort in repetition, even if it’s negative repetition. Doing the same thing, having the same response is safe because it’s familiar. It almost doesn’t matter that it hurts you more, that it’s ultimately incredibly self destructive, because at least you know this feeling. There is security and safety because it’s what you know.
Look at it like a rollercoaster. The first time you go on it its frankly fucking terrifying. You’re all I’m gonna be sick, what’s happening, I CAN NOT DEAL. But then you go on it again, and again, and again, and after a while you know all the twists, you remember the bit where you go upside down where you feel sick, and you get used to it. The more you do it,the easier it becomes to keep on doing it, even if it keeps on making you feel sick.
As with many analogies, if you look too hard it will fall apart, (maybe don’t analyse that last bit about feeling sick and still riding the coaster too hard) but the gist of it is true. The familiarity of thinking negatively about myself is often an easier route to take then stopping and thinking about whether its actually true or not.

I’ve started doing things to change my way of thinking. I don’t want to feel shit about myself every time something bad happens, so now I stop and think about it a little.
I think about if it is really something to do with me, or if it’s actually something to do with someone else, and I’m just being a sponge for their emotions.
Sometimes it is me, but a lot of the time it isn’t.
When I get upset because someone on Tinder can’t deal with me being trans, I try not to take that as a reflection on me anymore. I try not to do that because the truth of it is that it’s not me that has the problem. It’s not for me to take on that, it doesn’t make me a bad person. There is no need to put myself down, because I have done nothing that is deserving of that.
It is of course easier to write this than do it, but remember when I said I never thought of myself as a quitter?
Well apparently that’s true with thinking good things about yourself as well…..

I sometimes have a warped view of relationships, and by sometimes I possibly mean all the time.
You see, I want a relationship, but at the same time, when I’m in a relationship, I also sort of don’t want to be in one.

I think part of the problem I have when I’m in a relationship is that I can’t appreciate the present with it. That’s confusing isn’t it?
What I mean is that I’m constantly thinking about the future, things like ….
Will we still be together in a years time?
Am I going to say something really stupid soon that’ll piss you off?
Will I still like you next week?
Will you still like me next week?
How long will it be before we run out of things to say?
How long will it be before you realise I’m just like everyone else?

Obviously, if I’m loading all of this onto every relationship I get into then that’s not going to be ideal. You might even go as far as to say that it’s kind of doomed from the start.

Living in the present sounds simple, after all, we constantly live in a moment, but I think there’s a difference between living in the moment, and appreciating the moment.
Appreciating the moment takes skill as it means you have to let go of potential futures, it means you have to learn to stop worrying about what if, and start noticing what is.
That my friends is hard. It’s not something that comes naturally to me. I want to know what will happen, I pre-empt, I predict, I control and twist the future like some sort of obsessive, flame haired soothsayer.

This isn’t good for me, because it stops me seeing what I have, and makes me seem either too full on, or such a closed book that it becomes impossible to get close to me.

I am getting better at not seeing every future, at not worrying about the what ifs. Every time I get close to someone and manage to appreciate just being there, in the moment, every time I think this, right now, is enough, I give myself a brain thought high five.
It means that I can think back now and remember that time we sat on a bench and watched the sun set over the sea, and really smile.
It means when I think about that time we stayed up all night playing each other our favourite songs, because it is the only real way to get to know someone, I think of warmth, and joy.
And best of all, it means that moments are retrospective. I can live in the moment of something that has been and gone, and appreciate it for just being that, a snapshot in a journey, a moment of peace and warmth.
If I can do that with the past, then I can do that with the present, and maybe even the future.
The wiring is all there, I just have to plug it in.

I have, and will, sleep with people on first dates. I don’t always do this, but given the right situation, it is something I do.
There is a preconception that women who do this are somehow, less valid as people, even the words used, things like promiscuous, easy, predatory, are all demeaning and negative.
This we all hear, and this we all know, a woman who sleeps with people early on is somehow less valid than a man who does the same.

As a trans woman the validity is diminished even more, as in societies eye I’m already less valid anyhow, in that I’m often seen as less of a woman, and this reflects in how I’m perceived when it comes to sex.
Now this is entirely based on my own experience, and as I’ve said before, it may not be true of everyone, but I find that as a trans person, the pre conceptions of being promiscuous, easy and predatory are often there even before I sleep with people.
Trans women in particular are sexualised, often fetishised, and nearly always othered (as in ‘not one of us’. There’s an excellent piece explaining this more here.) in films, television and popular culture. Popular culture is just that, popular. It sinks into people’s minds, it creates impressions of what to expect when we come across particular situations, and in the case of trans women, those impressions are often pretty fucked up.
I’ve spoken a bit about this before, in regards to mental health issues, but these preconceptions are there when it comes to sex as well.

From my own personal experience, these preconceptions are most obvious when it comes to internet dating, which I’m guessing is because of the detachment the internet can create. In real life it’s less likely a stranger will approach you with an offer of anal sex whilst dressed as a maid, because the consequences are more real, whatever way it goes.
The internet absolves us of meaningful consequence, it detaches us from reality, and allows us to show another side, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

There is of course a degree of generalisation here, not everyone has these preconceptions, just as not every Trans person will object to fetishisation.
However, by applying labels such as promiscuous, or predatory, by detaching ourselves from seeing people as people, we are dehumanising an experience that is one of the most human things we can do, and that can’t be a good thing.

Complications

I think I’m complicated. I also think that puts people off. That’s not too say that we’re not all complicated in our own way, it’s more that some complications are easier than others.

Complications that could be potentially a problem when dating, but don’t apply to me (yay!)

  • having kids
  • messy divorces
  • angry ex-significant others
  • being a dick
  • bad personal hygiene
  • terrible social skills
  • a universal hatred of other people
  • off-putting pets
  • Jealousy of everything

Complications that could be potentially a problem when dating, and do apply to me (boo!)

  • being trans

Okay, so, I’m over simplifying to make a point here, there are other complications as well, but this one does seem to be kinda the big one. It seems, and this is just me going on experience here, that I’m too well, complicated, for most people.

 (Again, this is based on my experiences, so put down your torches/pitchforks and stop that well orchestrated leaflet campaign, it may well not be the case for everyone.)

Thing is, I do get why it’s complicated for some people. We live in a world that’s very binary. Male, Female, Gay, Straight, Penis, Vagina. It’s all very straightforward, and this is what most people know.

When that gets challenged it can be unsettling, it can be confusing, it can make us think about our own personal identities. Any challenge, or change, to our world view creates a degree of resistance, and forces us to make a choice to accept and explore this new thinking, or to ignore or fight against it.
I know this because, every time my world view is challenged this is how I feel.

I have a friend, and she has a rule. She won’t sleep with anyone till the fifth date. She does this because she wants a relationship, and she says it weeds out the people that are only looking for one night stands, or something less committed, among other things.
I’m going to be honest here, this challenged me. I’ve always been of the mind that if you want to sleep with someone you should just do it, first date, third date, whatever date. If there’s spark and desire to do it, then go for it. Abstaining for a set amount of time is not something I’ve ever considered.
And yet, it made sense, in relation to the reasons she gave. It made me think about why I have a tendency to sleep with people on the first or second date. It made me explore this new thinking.

What I discovered is a post for another time, but the point I’m trying to make is that by considering something new, I discovered something good about myself, and changed how I perceive things for the better.

If going on a date with a trans person freaks you out, maybe you should just stop, just for a minute, and think about why that is. Maybe you have reasons that feel valid, and maybe they are, but isn’t it worth challenging?

I know, from experience, that it’s easy to tread the paths we always tread, but have you seen what’s off the beaten track?

You really should come take a look, it could be the best thing you’ll ever do.

If we were to go on the average lifespan of humankind, in the UK today, then hitting forty means that I’m halfway through this particular run. Of course, I’m going to aim for the big onehundred so I’ve got a bit of a way to go still, but here’s what I’ve learnt so far about becoming what some might call ‘older’…..

1.The mysterious case of the Grey Hair (Or white in my case.)
I always knew about these kids, and the way they just start appearing, but they’ve really upped their game recently.  What was a couple, is now quite a few, and I suspect that will evolve into lots.

At the moment, because I dye my hair, they’re only visible at the roots, but they’re there, and at some point, I’m going to have to make a decision to let them multiply and go strikingly white haired, or keep on dying them out of existence.

Also, as an aside, the grey hair is not limited to your head. Just putting that out there.

 
2. Everyone you know will be in a relationship.
I watched You,Me and Dupree the other day. It would be fair to say I related a little too much to Owen Wilson’s character.

 
3. You’ll become the coolest person ever.
You stop worrying about stuff you spent so much time over before, and it’ll show in how people see you. Not giving a shit about what other people think about the things you like is liberating and cool, and you’ll gather more respect for it.

Want to wear Black and Brown together? Fuck yeah! Looking good!

Want to sing along to Billie’s seminal pop classic “Honey to the Bee” and not feel judged? THERE IS NOTHING TO JUDGE HERE!

Basically not caring about what other people think about you and your choices rules.

 
4. You’ll become brutally honest.
Want an honest answer to a question? Ask someone in their forties. I am like the mouth of truth.

 
5. It becomes harder to stay hardcore.
By hardcore I mean doing stuff you did in your twenties. Older bodies do not appreciate the same levels of constant drink based lols that younger ones do.

 
6. You get better at life.
Not perfect, just better.

 
7. People look up to you.
This actually happens. You know when you were younger, and there was that cool Aunt you had? That’s going to be you. People will come to you for advice because they know you’ll be able to help, and be cool about it, no matter what the problem.

 
8. New Years Eve will never be the best night of the year.
I’ve done so many of these now, and although some of them have been alright, in reality the best nights of my life have been the unexpected ones, when there’s no expectations.

 
9. Sex becomes less with the ridiculous expectations and more about the fun.
There’s a lot of pressure and expectation around sex when you’re younger. It’s still there when you turn forty, but you learn to shrug it off more.
I’m the most comfortable with my naked body I’ve ever been. You’d be amazed what a difference this makes to everything.

 
10. You’ll finally start to know yourself.
This is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It makes relationships, friendships, family, decisions, life, the universe and everything easier.

As the philosopher Laozi once said “He who knows others is wise; He who know himself is enlightened.”

 

 

Freiya Benson

Writer & Photographer.

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