Thursday, 27 March 2014

Reflections on my journey as partner of a trans man

As regular readers of this blog will be aware my partner is a trans man, i.e he is going through gender reassignment from female to male. Occasionally I have time to stop and reflect on the steep learning curve I've been on. I want to take this opportunity to share some of the knowledge I've gained on how to support a trans person, as a result of my times of getting it right and wrong.

1. Be aware of your language and the impact it can have.

In the beginning I had to have it explained that tranny is a hate term and under no circumstances to be used. But it goes beyond this I have inadvertently hurt my husband at times through my use of language and have only realised when I have spotted his body language. An area of particular discussion and misunderstanding was my use of the language of disability, because it was the only way I could get my head around being transsexual not being a choice and requiring medical treatment including surgery.

2. Sensitively communicate your own understandings and fears of what is happening

Following on from the point above, when I explained to my partner why I struggle using anything other than the medical model to process the transition we came to an understanding about the paradigms each of us were using and why we were using them. Throughout the process it has been important for me to explain what my fears are so that, on occasion, they could be totally quashed for the nonsense they were, but at other times they could be appreciated for sensible concerns. Throughout the process what has been important is to create an environment where the one emotion which is avoided is guilt. My husband can't help being trans any more than I can help struggling with some aspects of it.

3. Get to know the practical difficulties your partner is facing

Being trans creates practical difficulties for the person going through transition. I learnt pretty early on that for my partner there are two quite big ones. The first was using toilets in public places. There are some environments where using the male toilets can be difficult for him, particularly if they are busy or the doors on the cubicles are a bit dodgy. I have learnt that when making decisions as to where to go thinking about that is important. I am becoming somewhat of an expert on knowing where to find gender neutral toilet facilities.

The other big practical problem has been finding adult masculine shoes in a small enough size. This was something I knew was a real source of difficulty for my husband and so I did some searching around and we discovered Dr. Martens were the best brand to go for. They've recently opened a store locally, and in the sale I noticed they had some shoes which were ideal for the look he is developing on special in the sale. Knowing the issue I immediately went in to check if they would still be available later on, and when the answer was negative I got them there and then.

4. Understand the law is an ass but going with the flow is important

In this post I explain about the wonders of the GRC system and the nonsense of the spousal veto which I am expected to engage with. Whilst I do consider the law an ass and would be quite happy to dig my heels in, saying I want to stay in a civil partnership with him or refuse to sign the spousal veto because I think having to exercise power in that way is repugnant I know I can't. I know that in the coming months when he applies for the GRC it is one of the most significant steps in his transition process and I just need to go through the process of jumping whatever hurdles the law puts up so he can get that bit of paper.

5. Be ready with hugs

Going through transition is never easy for anybody. However, liberating it may be as a process it does involve facing up to the gender dysphoria, going through a process of assessments in order to access treatment, taking hormones, surgery and facing a world which doesn't understand and has a tendency to stare at anybody it views as different. There is also a great deal of fear of rejection which goes along with this journey. Add in the fact that most trans people face some kind of verbal or physical abuse at some point in their journey and you will understand at times it can be an extremely painful process sometimes. Therefore, you do need to be ready with hugs sometimes.

6. Trans isn't the defining feature of the person

My husband has a range of attributes and features beyond being trans. His gender identity is only part of who he is and it is certainly not the defining feature. I have chosen to stay with him because I fell in love with a range of things about him before he came out as trans; his intelligence, his faith and his sense of humour amongst other things. Those things are still there and are far more important aspects of him than the fact he is trans.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Using Hornby to help us read Hagar

Long Way Down is a new film adaptation of Nick Hornby's book about a group of people who meet at the top of a notorious suicide spot, ready to throw themselves off, but due to the presence of each other don't jump that night. It is a bigger budget film than Fever Pitch, his first film to be adapted to the big screen, and that is clear in some ways. However, it retains a special charm which is unique to his work, I think, and which Fever Pitch best exemplifies. This charm comes from the way in which Hornby details the complexity of humanity in a way which combines humour with a rare observational skill. Within this he captures something which can be found across cultures but is particularly British.

As I say being suicidal is a central theme to the film but so too is overcoming those feelings. There is also talk of an angel which comes into the film, although this is an invention to make their story more fun as they engage with the media.
I want to go back to Hagar's story which can be found in the bible in Genesis  21 verses 8 -21 and look at how we can be helped to better understand it and how to help communicate it to a contemporary generation if we view it through a similar lens to Long Way Down and through the writing of Nick Hornby.

The first thing about Long Way Down is the characters involved present us with a picture of humanity which isn't always pretty and contains information which may revolt us on one level. Martin is a character whose media career is in tatters after he has been to prison after sleeping with an underage girl for example. Yet, we are taken on a journey which enables us to move on from that to look at the bigger picture, whilst never being asked to excuse an act which we may find abhorrent.
This approach of looking at the story without making moral judgements about the characters is useful to help us engage with Abraham and Sarah as key figures but people whose mistakes are at the root of Hagar's pain. Using this technique we can explore what it might have meant to Abraham to be a Ishmael's father and yet have to send him and Hagar away.

Secondly, Hornby uses within the film is to look at difficult topics as part of life without getting hysterical about them. It is a fact that many people have suicidal feelings at different points in their life and will sometimes act upon them. Hagar was suffering from depression as a result of her experiences and for her laying down her son to die when their food and drink had run out and then preparing to die herself was the logical consequence of what she had to face. The suicidal feelings or feelings of despair are not put forward as anything other than what they are, logical responses to difficult situations in which people find themselves or ways to deal with not being able to cope with facing oneself.
Yet, within the film there is a clear message that whilst suicide and giving up on life may be logical responses they are not the answer there is something more to life and life can change. This is the case for Hagar too. She does have an encounter with an angel and it does change her life by pointing her to resources which can help her - in this case a well. We don't know fully what happens to Hagar and her son Ishmael, just as we don't know fully what happens in the lives of each character in Hornby's film. However, we do know that Ishmael grew up learning successful hunting skills and that Hagar was able to provide the dowry to be able to find him a wife from her own people in Egypt. It doesn't matter that we don't know the detail in either the film or the bible story. What does matter is that we know that after an initial experience these people were able to change their lives around in a way which may not have been easy for them but which was positive.

One of the characters in Long Way Down is a single parent of a severely disabled son. And whilst the single parent aspect is not really explored in this film it is something Hornby has come up in other of Hornby's books adapted for film. About a Boy, takes up this theme and shows the despair which can come from single parenthood too. The early part of Fever Pitch also has single parenthood as a sub-plot theme. They are always portrayed as normal people who happen to be single parents either with or without the care of their children. Whilst the impact of that might be depression or difficulty it is not the sum total of who they are. Through their interactions with others their lives are changed in positive ways.
So I challenge you to re-read the story of Hagar and Ishmael as if it were a Hornby novel or the script of one of his films and see it appears to you then. It may help you to see what this story of an ancient single mother has to say to a contemporary audience.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Women's World Day of Prayer

Tomorrow (Friday 7th) is the Woman's World Day of Prayer (WWDP). This is an annual international event which happens around the same time as International Women's Day, (which is the 8th March). Every year there is a focus on one country, and the women of that country are involved in putting together the worship resources. Last year it was France, this year it is Egypt.

It has a rich history beginning in the 19th century in North America and spreading to the UK in the 1920s and 1930s. Thus, it provides a direct link with first wave feminism and the spiritual thread of this movement which saw women working for equal participation during that period, although often not connecting directly with the formal Feminist movement.
Men are welcome at Women's World Day of Prayer events, but this is essentially a feminist celebration of international sisterhood and shared faith - although many of those involved would have 40 fits if they heard people using that sort of language in regard to this event. I was therefore relieved to read on the website that the UK WWDP committee had decided to retain the word "Women's" in the title. There had been debate about this over the last year, but apparently 90% of responses indicated that in the UK the gendered title be retained. The website indicates the question hasn't gone away forever, but for the moment we can continue to celebrate this as an event put together by women.

For me this is one of the most moving and important services I will attend annually. There is something about these services and the way that they are designed so many of the participants find themselves contributing in some way that touches me very deeply within. These services also teach us much about the experience of women in different parts of the world, whose stories may not otherwise be heard. They are, even if the language is never used, in their own ways celebrations of Christian feminism or at the very least the principals at the root of it.
The bringing together of women of different ages and denominations from a variety of different social and cultural backgrounds is a very powerful.

As I looked at the revamped UK WWDP website and the images on it I felt sad that the pictures of the women on there didn't seem to fully reflect this rich diversity.
The website does give details of local services, although it appears not all are on there. When I put Milton Keynes in the website the ones at the Church of Christ the Cornerstone tomorrow didn't come up. The details are, however, on the new - somewhat busy - Cornerstone website if you are interested in attending the services at either 12:30 or 6pm. All would be more than welcome.