“Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes”

c3bac0c0998fdd737acaaa254a9a6aadAs always after a documentary on TV regarding trans people, even when done sensitively as in the case of Horizon’s “being transgender” last night, I always spend the next day reading numerous misinformed and bigoted comments across my social media. I could stay quiet, I could just blend into the background, but I wont. I am blessed to live in a country where, although far from perfect, I have access to medical treatment, allowing me to transition which has without doubt saved my life.

I would not have access to this had it not been for brave trans folk who came before me and fought, in even worse circumstances than we have now, for our treatment and safety. I feel drawn to pay this forward, which is why I share as honestly and openly as I do. The payoff, in the amount of love and support I have received and in the messages from people I have helped or who feel better informed from my sharing, make this all so very worthwhile.

So to all the haters and bigots out there, throw at me what you will, leave your hateful comments on my videos after all, your doing so helps in our fight for equality and understanding as you help to highlight just how much opposition we face on a daily basis, in simply trying to live our lives comfortable in our own skin as is the right of any human being.

In the words of Frank Turner, “I won’t sit down, and I wont shut up”

 

 

 

 

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Remembering the whole picture

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Last week, the date of the 9th March, marked 5 years since I officially changed my name by deed poll to Finlay. I had entirely forgotten the anniversary until Facebook reminded me by posting an old picture of my very proud boyish looking face celebrating the event. Being prompted to remember brought with it a flood of memories and a huge smile. I need that, with all that has occurred lately in having a setback in my surgical journey, it was wonderful to be reminded of just how far I have come. I haven’t gone backwards at all, not in terms of the whole picture at least.

The picture of me that flashed up on my Facebook news feed, with such a knowing grin, proudly clutching my signed deed poll, symbolises far more than just an official change of name. It even symbolises more than the official start to my living my life as a man. It represents the birth of Finn but far more it represents the birth of my whole being.

Just a year prior to changing my name, I entered the rooms of Alcoholic Anonymous and started my journey of recovery after a lifetime of abuse of drugs and alcohol. I truly see myself as being born the day I put the drink and drugs down. My video diaries and writing may well be heavily focused on my being transgender and undergoing gender transition but in all actuality, I see my journey as about being sober and in being so, being finally able to find the truth of who I am. By this I mean that the discovery of my being transgender was a consequence of getting sober and the start of my gender transition was the result of finding the courage to face myself and make the changes I needed to make, thanks to the fellowship of AA.  In this way, my being transgender is a small part of a much bigger journey rather than being the journey itself.

It is for this reason that this picture symbolises far more than just the change of name. The grin I am wearing symbolises the relief in finally getting to the bottom of a lifetime of depression, anxiety, self-loathing and self-destruction. It symbolises an awakening, to myself and to life and an excitement in finally being able to live, rather than to simply survive. It symbolises hope and opportunity, possibility and adventure. It symbolises an eagerness to commit to the journey of continuing to peel off the layers to reveal the truth of who I am

It has been so wonderful to be reminded of this and the way I felt when that picture was taken and even more wonderful to be reminded that I still feel the exact same way, even with all the bumps in the road. Most importantly it has reminded me that my life is far more than just about my gender transition. It can be incredibly hard not to get lost in that one part when things are not going to plan. This has been and continues to be an incredible journey of exploration, discovery and self-development of which being trans is, in the grand scheme of things at least, just one small part of a much greater whole.

 

 

 

Perspective is everything

After being pulled back to my writing after a short hiatus, I have just re read my last few blog entries with a pang of sadness. My last post was a hugely positive post about hospitals and how for me they are a place of hope and to be honest, right now I feel very differently. My recent hospital experiences have been anything but positive and to be frank, have at times bordered on being traumatic.

The last 6 weeks have been incredibly difficult, both emotionally and physically. I unfortunately did not have the surgery I was expecting to have and in fact have had to return to hospital a second time after it was apparent that something had gone awry after the first surgery. This means it has turned out to not be the final surgery in my surgical transition after all and this has been and continues to be, overwhelmingly  difficult to come to terms with. This hasn’t been helped by poor hospital care and lack of communication from my consultant as to what exactly has gone wrong and how its been corrected. I am fully aware that this journey is a difficult one with bumps in the road and set backs on route but strength to deal with that comes, partly at least, by being able to trust those whose hands you are in the care of. To top it all off my best friend suddenly died, he was found in his bed, appearing to have died in his sleep and we still have no answers as to why.

All this has left me rather lacking in the ability to feel very positive about anything at all and reading my last post now is a strange experience considering how different I feel. I want to get back to that place but I am just not there yet. However, on re reading that post, it strikes me that its less about my views on hospitals but is more accurately about perspective and in fact a fair few of my writing pieces are. This is a fact that has just struck me but does not surprise me at all.

The reason for this is because I have undergone a huge change in perspective which happened to me quite suddenly beginning in the August of 2010.  I personally see it as an awakening, and as someone who leads a spiritual life I do in fact see it as a spiritual awaking. The trouble is that this conjures up a lot of eye brow raising for people who don’t have the same leanings so I stick with the term change in perspective because they really are, at least as I see them, one and the same. This perspective change was such a shift in how I viewed myself, the world and my response to it, that despite it being 6 years now since this happened, it still astounds me daily just how different I am. This is then why it’s not surprising that most of my writing is centred around this concept, even if it’s not explicit.

Re reading my last blog entries and being reminded of the importance of this perspective change, has made me realise that it is not positivity I need to concentrate on, or worry about, or try to conjure up. Positivity or negativity is the outcome of perspective and this fact has just this second dawned on me.

To attempt to explain, I am someone who talks a lot about positive thinking, but I always qualify it by saying that positive thinking isn’t about sticking a false smile on your face and pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. I always say that positive thinking is about acknowledging the difficulty you are facing, allowing yourself to feel it, whilst at the same time focusing on what you can do about it, even if all you can do at the time is accept that the difficulty is there. In this way, you are presenting yourself with a choice, to fall solidly on the side of the difficulty, allow yourself to sink into the negative feelings of life being bad and it all being hopeless, or to fall on the side of, as in the example above, having to just accept the difficulty is how it is at this moment. Accepting in this way is active not passive and so presents a more positive approach. This choice of two options is perspective, you are giving yourself a different option from which to choose and in doing so, by deciding your perspective, this then has the potential to lead to the outcome of either negativity of positivity.

I believe you can always choose your perspective, but of course you first need to be aware of different views, to then have different perspectives to choose from. My initial perspective change was one I still cannot fully explain, it came to me as a result of engaging with a 12-step recovery program. I have a feeling it was in connecting to a deeper, unconscious aspect to myself, (which again for fear of alienating some readers I am going to attribute to finding a spiritual connection to a Higher Power) that paved the way. The perspective changes since have then snowballed due to actively working on my self – development and self-awareness and purposely seeking out different ways of relating to my emotions, to people and to the world.

Life is one of many ups and downs, happiness and hardship come and go and we cannot choose which one we get at any time. However, we can choose how we respond to each of these when they arrive which in turn then determines how we feel. The fact is that now I can choose my perspective and do so often, which is what has helped me to deal with difficulty, respond to events rather than react and to keep a largely positive way of living. With everything that has happened recently I think I forgot this fact, or maybe I chose to forget as I felt a bit sorry for myself and wanted a bit of wallowing time. I am not going to berate myself about that as it has been such a tough time and so is not surprising. Either way, it is time to stop worrying about my lack of positivity and instead concentrate on where my perspective lies.

This whole situation, in terms of my surgical transition journey, requires an active seeking out of different perspectives so that I have some to choose between. I think its likely that I had become so blinkered by my excitement at being so close to the finish line that I’d forgotten other less favourable outcomes were possible. And of course, although I wouldn’t want to choose the less favourable outcomes, accepting their existence is vital in approaching this surgery as it is an incredibly complex surgery with multiple potential risks and problems.

Initially in my surgery journey I was focusing on one stage at a time, I purposefully didn’t look ahead to the final surgical result as I knew that was too much of a leap ahead being that this surgery can take a few years to complete and would ultimately make the journey feel too daunting. I think this is a useful perspective to return to after all these recent complications with my surgery. My perspective choices now are that I can either look at it that my surgical journey was almost finished and I’m now a few steps backwards and needing extra surgery before my final stage, which is unbearably painful. Or I can choose to hold in mind that of course the ultimate goal is to be finished but right now I’m working towards a correction of the currently presenting issue so that the final surgery can be completed in a manner that will ensure good long term functioning. By choosing the second of these perspectives, It means I can find a way to see this recent surgery, and the extra unexpected one I will now need in a couple of months’ time, as positive ones as they are step forward in correcting the issues I currently have.

Even today I am seeing the benefits of remembering the value and power in choosing ones’ perspective, I have felt more at peace with all that has happened and have also surprisingly found things I feel positive about. I know that all this doesn’t mean I am now suddenly going to be OK, I have had a succession of high stress events, my mental and physical health have suffered, I will have to make a lot of changes to my plans and dreams for this year and its going to take some time to recover from all this but that’s where the balance I spoke about earlier comes into play. I am not trying to pretend everything is OK, I am not trying to force the positivity, I instead am working to accept that this is where I am right now and then look at small ways I can begin to choose a different perspective in order to be able to allow the positivity to return in its own good time

#JusJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 2nd – Time

 

This post takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan

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The word ‘time’ conjures up so many thoughts and emotions for me. Most significantly with the phrase “one day at a time”, which is a mantra I live by, given to me by my twelve step recovery program. Time is also a bitter sweet experience for me, I have wasted so much of it in my life, hiding from the world and from myself and I always wished it away. Now, with a sudden and dramatic shift in perspective since beginning recovery 6 years ago, there is suddenly not enough time.  Time has changed from being a slow lumbering painful enemy to a precious fleeting dancing fairy. I dance with it daily, living on the edge of sadness for the time lost, but turning my focus away from that so as not to waste any more of it exquisiteness.

As a transman going through transition, which takes an extraordinary amount of time, dancing with the time fairy in this way has been a challenge. Transition is a time of painful waiting, for appointments, for psychiatric approvals, for hormones, for surgery, for recovery, for my body to change and for my inner and outer social worlds to adapt. This means I have to work very hard to balance my view and my use of time, it’s too valuable to want to rush through having already wasted so much, but at the same time I am just so eager for the physical transition part of my life to be over so that I can simply get on with my life as the man I have always known myself to be.

I now mark in time the next ten days, when, on the 13th of January, I will have the final stage of my surgery and I will no longer be a slave to time but instead a dancing partner.

 

 

10 tips for the media on how to be a better Trans ally

November is Transgender Awareness Month and I thought it might be useful to address some topics around key debates and concerns in trans issues. I shall be sharing on my YouTube channel, where there will be an an accompanying video to this post, and on all my other social media sites.

One issue that frequently arises is backlash after a poorly presented program, film, or article on trans people and trans lives, hits the public sphere. Sadly it is quite rare that the media gift us with positive and affirming stories of transgender people.

When I first started sharing my story of my gender transition, I was very keen to work with the media to help raise awareness and reach out to other people struggling with gender issues. However, I find myself having to say no more and more because I have done things that did not come out how I hoped or was told they would and it’s disappointing. I’m also sick of seeing articles and documentaries that patronise us or sensationalise our stories. I feel for other Trans people that, like me, want to help only to find that the message conveyed is not the one they intended.

I’m having to be strict now, all l care about is helping other Trans people, yes l want to increase awareness and understanding but for the benefit of Trans people, not for the amusement of the general public

I do not believe in boycotting all media as a response to bad press, I feel that’s cutting our noses off to spite our face and just creates a stalemate between us. Instead we need a dialogue, you are still learning about us, our lives and our language, you will get it wrong and that’s OK, but what’s not OK is not apologising when you get it wrong or not listening to us and continuing to get it wrong. There are many of us who do want to tell you our stories but you need to first stop, drop what you think you know and instead really listen to us.

Here are my ten tips on what it will be helpful to bear in mind when working with us.

  1. Only trans people know how to tell trans stories
  • I do not think the media can tell accurate stories or create accurate films and documentaries without the input of trans people, I believe it is vital that a production team member is trans or that the team relies heavily on the advice of trans people in the creative process.
  • Make sure to do research, talk to the wider trans community and consult with experts such as Trans Media Watch
  1. Stop generalising
  • Remember the Trans person or Trans people you are filming or writing about, are just a small sample of a vast population. We all are very different people, came to realise we were Trans in different ways and live our lives very differently so please do not generalise to all trans people.
  1. Don’t focus on surgery as defining us
  • Don’t focus on hormones and surgery as defining our gender, these changes reflect our gender, they do not create it
  1. Be aware of your preconceptions
  • Think of your impact on our lives. The way u portray us effects the way we feel about ourselves and the way society feels about us
  • Check your perception of us before filming does it actually match with what we are telling you?
  • Stop projecting your ideas about what you think it is like to be us onto what we are saying, instead bracket your ideas and listen to what we are telling you
  • Ensure your whole production team is singing from the same hymn sheet. I am sure that most producers mean well with their questions but the way it’s edited can completely change the message as can the choice of lighting, the voice over and the music. They all convey a message and too often it takes away from the trans person reasons for taking part in the first place and then misrepresents us
  1. Be aware of our vulnerability
  • Trans people are vulnerable people, even the strongest of us are vulnerable because of the prejudice that exists in society towards us.
  • Remember that every time we choose to be visible for you it is your responsibility to respect and protect that trust
  • Trans people agree to articles and programs because of a wish to increase understanding and to reach those struggling. Respect that and do not miss represent us
  1. Learn our language
  • There is a general consensus of best practices guidelines and the language to use when telling Trans stories, these guidelines are there to protect the individual and the wider community so please study them. I will put a link at the bottom to trans media watch who provide great advice for the media
  • Sometimes a trans person may have different feelings about words, in this case follow the person’s lead but clarify it was their choice. Again this demonstrates that each of us experience being transgender differently and navigate life differently
  1. Be aware of the power you hold in telling our story and the impact you have
  • Remember the power you have, over the Trans person/people you are working with and in the effect of the message you send out with your creation
  • As trans people we have little social power, we trust you, you’ve told us you want to tell our story, to help spread awareness, to humanise us. Due to your expertise we see you as people of power and we trust you. Do not abuse that trust, make sure you tell the story that we tell you and nothing else.
  1. Be honest and respectful
  • Be honest with us; tell us your aims, what will be used, how it will be used, what message you hope to convey. This will give us informed choice in working with you.
  • Be honest with yourself, what are your aims? Do you really want to help trans people or do you just want ratings?Remember we are people and people who are still fighting to be accepted, please do not exploit our vulnerability in order to further your own ends.
  1. You are responsible and accountable
  • If you write a story and pass it on l believe it is still your responsibility to ensure your original intent is not misrepresented. A great story can be turned into circus play with just a few poor tag lines and headlines.
  1. Remember we are people not ratings generators
  • Emotive tag lines may well pull in viewers and readers but they serve to feed the sensationalist view of trans people as people who are odd, different and to be gawped at which only serves to make things worse for us.
  • We are not freaks, anomalies, emotive tag lines, or tools to increase ratings. We are people, with inspiring stories to tell that go far beyond what gender we were assigned at birth, what our old names were or what we have in our pants.

 

Who am I? – Identity development in gender transition

As both a student psychologist and a man with a trans history, the topic of identity and how it develops over time fascinates me.  I have found that my identity never properly developed a stable base, in hindsight I expect this is why I was diagnosed with a personality disorder and I now believe it was down to the fact that I was never female and this caused the personality, identity and mental health issues I faced.

In transition I have experienced a loss and a grieving for my old identity, not because it was one I like but because it was all that I knew and without it I was in limbo whilst I waited for my new identity as a man to form and become stable.

During transition we are in a constant state of flux, as hormones and surgery change the body we have to get used to our new embodied selves and as our gender roles and societal expectations change we have to get used to the new way we interact with others. This constant flux means that the stable identity base is hard to build.

Now, nearing the end of my surgical journey and hormones having done their most significant work, I find I am at last able to put down stable roots to my identity, allowing me more security and stability from which to explore other aspects of myself.

In this vlog I discuss this process and the ways in which I am continuing to actively discover and develop my new identity.

 

Protecting An Arm Graft After Lower Surgery

I thought it might be helpful to share the ways in which I have been protecting my skin graft on my forearm. I originally tried a tubi grip but I found it hot and uncomfortable and have since found some much better options

Continue reading “Protecting An Arm Graft After Lower Surgery”