When Elton John opined that ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word’, he wasn’t wrong let me tell you. Sorry is one of those words that is very definite and emotive. We use it in so many multiple situations and yet there is rarely ambiguity inculcated in its meaning.
Here, I do not intend to address the perfunctory sorry which results from somebody being unable to hear what you are saying and making polite if frantic gestures towards their ear. Neither am I talking about the performative sorry that is sometimes said when a child has promised not to eat any more sweets or biscuits, and they are caught red-handed by a parent sporting a chocolate sculpture on their face.
Lastly I’m not talking about a political apology like the one Nick Clegg was forced into after making a U-turn on scrapping tuition fees. The parody video was hilarious but given that many students voted for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats on this basis, the parody video may have been funny, but the resulting fallout was no laughing matter. The Liberal Democrats paid the price for this with a huge reduction in seats at the last General Election.
But there is another kind of sorry which is altogether more serious. The kind of sorry whereupon you really hurt somebody, and a genuine sincere apology has to come from the bottom of the annals of your heart and soul. It is that kind of sorry which is the business of this post today.
It is very personal to me as a writer, and I suspect very personal to the people who will end up reading it. It is rare for me to write such a directly targeted piece, but in this instance I deem it absolutely necessary. I will set out what happened, why the sorry is necessary, and ways forward which enable I and the people concerned to have a better relationship personally and professionally in the future.
I had always known I was trans, even if I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe it when I was growing up. As the song ‘Who Will Love Me as I Am?’ from the musical Side Show has it “always knew that I was different; often fled into a dream.” This is true and the song itself is very special to me, for it articulates deftly and superbly how I feel about my life.
I was born different anyway. I was born with cerebral palsy three months early. So difference was not an alien concept. I transitioned at 25 with the full support of the hostel where I was living at the time, John Darling Mall and the staff there, many of whom I now count as personal friends, and why wouldn’t you after you’ve gone through such a seminal profound experience together? I was also supported throughout by an experienced counsellor who specialised in gender issues, and she had also been a Special Educational Needs teacher prior to becoming a counsellor.
It is fair to say that I bloomed and blossomed for the first five years of my transition. I began writing professionally, I dressed as I wished and found a home for myself at the local gay club. I continued my passion for theatre and show tunes and general fluff and camp whimsy.
For those who don’t know I did come out as gay at 18, but it just didn’t work. I did try my absolute best to make it work. Looking back, it was kind of like going halfway along the yellow brick road, but never quite making it to Finian’s Rainbow.
So in becoming trans, I realised what I really was. I have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, with the onset period for this being mid to late childhood.
Through my writing, I attracted the attention of many prominent trans activists, and it is they who this apology post is predominantly aimed at. Writing from a particular viewpoint seems to constitute activism, and the more you write, the more people get to know you, the more people are interested in watching what you have to say but perhaps most crucially to this post the more people expect of you. You’re expected to have an opinion on certain issues. You’re expected to know your way around them and to give comment upon the said issue at a moment’s notice.
As well as the serious stuff, I threw myself into the LGBT party scene, meeting many interesting and colourful people who were and still are beautiful inside and out.
So my writing career was flourishing. I was encouraged and almost indirectly mentored by some very kind people. There was an initiative built around better representation of trans people in the media, entitled All About Trans, run by a company called On Road Media.
I was asked if I would like to participate in what was known as an interaction with other trans friends, between us and the BBC. Although I can’t quite trace back the exact timing, this is when my trans journey began to turn sour and fall apart, all I have to say because of my own actions which were foolish and stupid and I take full responsibility for them.
Suffice to say I bottled out of the interaction with the BBC, which could have been useful to me, given that I was already writing and desperately wanted to pursue a career in journalism, both written and broadcast.
But my Jungian shadow side was coming out to play and nagging thoughts of low self-esteem, lack of confidence and lack of self-belief crept into my mind. Along with these, thought of body hatred and ugliness crept into my mind.
“Why would the BBC be interested in you? What have you got to offer? What can you bring to the dialogue?” Also, I was worried I didn’t look as good as the others.
Over time I isolated myself. I began to feel really inferior in comparison to my other trans friends.
At some point I began dialogue with radical feminists. They want to see an end to gender and an end to gender expression. Through a radical feminist prism, there would be no need to transition because everybody could live freely and dress how they wanted.
On some levels, this is a utopian and laudable aspiration. However, its implementation and ultimate realisation as a framework built around society feels more tricky for me.
I will come on to explain why later.
But at the time I found radical feminism, I was at a low ebb in my life. Nobody forced me into anything and nobody forced me to look further into it. I did so freely and of my own volition.
In a sense for me it allowed an escape route from the things I have always found tricky about being trans. Radical feminists were supportive and empathic to me around disability issues for example, and issues around appearance, and my perceived
inferiority. In some ways this isn’t only perceived it is something I still feel quite strongly. Radical feminists too spoke truth to power about doing womanhood differently, free of the need to placate and comply with male expectations.
All this seemed very inspiring to me and I did learn a lot from my time alongside the radical feminist movement.
The main desire of radical feminism is to smash patriarchy – that is to say male dominance and male power structures within society which preclude women from full participation and power in society. Again, this was attractive given I’d been abused emotionally by a man who was powerful physically as he was mentally. I found him intimidating in terms of his height and demeanour.
Whereas many people are comfortable with trans people in society, radical feminists see trans people and the need to transition as a genuine obstacle to ending gender. Some say openly that trans women are really men and vice versa. Moreover, some say that trans women are really gay men and vice versa. But this rhetoric is a sideshow compared to my own issues with trans stuff, which I feel I must lay bare in order that my apology will be sincere and from the heart.
Radical feminists will say that transition and trans people all about dressing up and it is all about focus on the clothes they wear.
Whilst I can attest wholeheartedly there is more to transition, than clothes, make up and other superficial things, the focus on appearance is something I have always struggled with.
When I first started blogging, and when the trans community first got to know me through Facebook, one of the things I noticed compared to non-trans friends was the abundance of selfies trans people posted. I am not blaming them for doing this. That would not be constructive or consistent with the aims of this post. However, the endless stream of compliments based on appearance or fashion choices was often hard to read for me and envy crept in. Envy morphed into jealousy, and jealousy morphed into a real melancholy stubborn sadness that just would not go away. It took up residence in the heartbreak hotel one might say.
Relevant to this in a more overarching sense is my disability. For most people being trans is a monism, it is the main oppression they have to deal with. But for me trans is a dualism alongside my disability.
When seen in the context of this dualism it is not hard to understand why being trans and disabled is difficult. I will try to set it out though as best I can for my own benefit and for yours.
Trans focuses in the physical sense on giving you the body of your dreams, for the male to female trans woman, gaining breasts and a vagina and losing a penis. Being a trans man on the other hand means losing breasts, gaining a deeper voice and gaining a penis perhaps.
But in my case, and in the case of physical disability more broadly, whilst trans focuses upon bodily perfection and looking fantastic, physical disability brings to the fore the imperfect, the damaged and the difficult. This is a very difficult conundrum to live with as a trans person and for the avoidance of doubt I don’t use the word conundrum as a light touch.
So much of trans is imbued with the politics of passing, that is to say looking as much like the everyday woman as possible and avoiding people knowing you are trans. Some people who can pass very well manage to live in stealth which is conducive to this objective. But being a person with a physical disability is not. Due to the need for me, and others to have personal care to various degrees, privacy is non-existant.
Of course there is so much more to being trans than the physical transition and I accept that to some these previous paragraphs may look a little crude both in form and delivery.
My aim in their inclusion though is not to rehearse physical transition procedures. It is something a little deeper. I want us all to think a little deeper now.
Think about it. Trans and disability. It’s a real paradox. And to be honest, you would never sit trans and disability next to each other intentionally in the pub.
The focus on the perfect versus the imperfect. The focus on beauty. The focus on thinness and losing weight. These all present real mental challenges, which are sometimes painful to me at a trans person. Let us take the example of somebody raising money for surgery. They can raise that money and reach their goal, and come to the end of it with self-satisfaction. While I know that no amount of money and no amount of Go Fund Me will take away my cerebral palsy.
And there is too much stupid focus on silly tropes which have no basis in theory or reality. Something like “trans girls are prettier than cis girls” for example may act as a comfort blanket and shield for some but may hurt others who feel they will never reach that standard of perfection. So, there are issues around language and how that impacts upon others. It also gives succour to the idea that trans people are misogynistic. Why provide that ammunition? It is I have to say something of an own goal.
Knowing that my canvas is already damaged and a surgeon will never be able to work on it is a huge source of grief for me. The reason why you would never sit trans and disability down together in the pub intentionally is because there are far more limitations imposed upon the disabled trans person than the average trans person. I know if I was able-bodied and normal in society’s eyes I would have had surgery by now it would have been done and dusted and a part of my life which would have been my history. I also envy trans people who have experienced and those who will go on to experience this reality. Now, it’s a fair comment to say that not every trans person has surgery. This is true. Nobody holds a gun to people’s heads and forces them to have it.
However, I always wanted it. Two buzzwords which often float around these days are choice and agency. To be told you can’t have something is a very different beast from actively considering something and deciding you don’t want to pursue it. When I could see other trans peers actively reaching their goals I was happy for them, but also I had a splash of sadness too.
So in short I decided to leave the trans world behind because the ardent focus on visuals and visual perfection versus the dualism of a deformed and damaged body which could never match up to trans beauty standards was too much to bear. I thought that the best way to cure this would be to aim for a gender free world where would everybody looked like didn’t matter and whatever anyone’s disabilities or abilities were was a mere irrelevance.
But transition rests not only on physicality and biology. There is also a social transition to be made, and that also frustrated me that there was not much discussion of this within the trans community. The visual aesthetic seemed to reign supreme. For more thoughts on being disabled and trans I commend this piece from Medium to you, by Jordan Gwendolyn-Davies. It articulates many of the frustrations I feel on a daily basis.
But social transition is where I come unstuck on the radical feminist trajectory. Whilst radical feminists offer a world where we are free of gender and speak consistently about how wonderful it would be, we are not yet there in present reality.
Therefore, there are still different social expectations placed upon men and women. After being transitioned for so many years (it will be 10 this year, if this temporary blot on the landscape is discounted) it was very hard to adjust to being a man again. I felt like my world had changed from shocking pink to magnolia in 360°. Society is not a gender free entity.
I said that when I entered into the world of radical feminism I was at a low ebb. Trust me that ebb got lower. I don’t blame anybody for this, no individual radical feminists no individual branch of theory, merely circumstance. Social media which had once provided pleasure, now provided only torment and sadness. Instead of using it constructively, I used it to lash out and be nasty to trans people in ways that I’m not proud of, which fell far short of the standards of behaviour I set for myself and others. In a broader sense, I ended up on Mirtazapine, which is a very strong antidepressant drug.
In terms of physical side effects, the main one was weight gain. I’m still not happy about this but there is not a lot I can do. But over time Mirtazapine became beneficial and the fog and misery of depression began to clear. I knew what had brought me to this point of needing a strong antidepressant, and what would pull me back from it. Before I transitioned I was very depressed really depressed. After I transitioned, I wasn’t always mentally stable and I still had frustrations, but I could cope better with daily life and even enjoy it. I am convinced that the catalyst for this was transition. So I knew what I needed to do to pull myself out of the mire. In late summer after not complying with my trans-medical regime of daily hormones, and an injection every 10 weeks, I returned to my GP and asked him to reinstate the medication onto my prescription list. I do take other disability -related medication which is irrelevant to this discussion.
Since then my mood is improved I have improved. I’m 10 times happier finding new people in life to engage with, forging some positive artistic and creative relationships. I have rediscovered my musical and writing sensibilities and feel at peace with myself. I am now happy to say also that my body is a Mirtazapine and antidepressant free zone for the first time in 10 years. I weaned off them gradually under supervision from my GP, following the pattern he set and I am feeling no ill effects. My GP suggests that I have done well to do so.
I would be a liar if I said that nobody has ever de-transitioned. However I’m telling the absolute honest truth, hand on my heart when I say it just didn’t work for me at all. It pushed me right back to square one. In fact it pushed me right back to the time when I was first told at college I needed to take antidepressants by a very empathic counsellor. I’m not saying it undid all the progress along the way for I have always been there. I have always been present throughout in the moment.My indomitable flame and spirit may have faded during that time but they were always there, and I am forced now in a healthier place to re-examine my conscience and my actions during that time.
Depression may provide a rationale for out of character behaviour, however a rationale is not the same as a get out of jail free card.
In ending this post, there are people I would like to apologise to. They include but are not limited to:
Paris Lees – You were one of the first people to see potential in my writing. You were so pleased when I got the article published in the New Statesman just after Lucy Meadows’ tragic death. We last spoke on Skype when you offered me the chance to collaborate with you and Roz Kaveney on a blog version of the innovative and intuitive META magazine. From then onwards I isolated myself and cut people off. I’m sorry for that and would like to work with you again in the future to do whatever needs to be done. Roz, I would like to apologise to you also for discrediting you on Twitter it was disgusting behaviour for which I’m deeply ashamed.
Sarah Lennox – You also believed in my writing and supported it unconditionally. For that I am forever grateful. Along with Paris you planted a seed which let’s face it died for a bit but I hope it can be brought back to life. In a similar vein via you perhaps, I would also like to apologise to Alana and Natalie at On Road Media for letting them down regarding the interaction and not supporting subsequent endeavours.
Natacha Kennedy, Sophia Botha and Sabine – This apology is for the Twitter abuse you suffered at my hands. I apologise for that, I realise it must have caused deep trauma and hurt after you extending the hand of friendship to me. I am sorry I betrayed that trust and hope we can move forward in a spirit of reconciliation if not immediate regained trust.
Sophia Banks – similar Twitter abuse really. I’m sorry for it and will never do such things again, the same goes for CN Lester, and every other trans person I have let down with my actions
This is not an exhaustive list, and if you’re not on it it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the hurt I’ve caused you. This apology extends to you too.
Why I wrote as I did about the difficulties around me being trans and disabled is not to provide a critique of or raise the temperature in the trans community. It is what I should have done in the first place; used my writing gifts to articulate my feelings instead of running away as I did lashing out at people non-constructively and causing a great deal of hurt, anger and upset to people I care about.
A friend feels that I was trying to rid myself of one oppression, given that I can’t in her words un-disable myself. But the strategy was flawed. I just ended up more hurt and more lost than ever before. The absolute truth of the matter is that to me I couldn’t un-trans myself either.
There is much unhelpful language from trans people as there is invective directed towards trans people. Telling women that they are witches and should be burned is no more helpful than telling trans women they are really men.
One of the main reasons de-transition didn’t work for me either centres around socialisation. Much of radical feminist theory is predicated on the idea that males and females experience a different form of socialisation due to the way they are treated respectively.
Now there is no doubt in my mind that women and girls are exposed to a disproportionate amount of sexism and misogyny throughout the life course. This is regrettable disgusting and every effort must be made by Government and other agencies to reduce the grip of sexism and misogyny upon society. Socialisation and the theory thereof suggests that whilst girls are taught to be caring and nurturing, men are taught to be tough physical and competitive. However I think that there is far more variance in socialisation experience than is shown by exploring these two variables in isolation
For example, an only child as I am experiences the world very differently to somebody with a number of siblings for example. Whether a child’s parents are divorced and who they spend most of their time with also affects socialisation. Finally, variables like disability, which may affect physicality also mediate within socialisation. My contention is here there is no one single socialisation as a monolithic boy or a monolithic girl, but instead a plurality of socialisation possibilities for both sexes or neither. This is why radical feminism doesn’t work for me. It limits itself to the binary and the black-and-white at a time when the shades of grey looking increasingly interesting and relevant to contemporary society and Sociology.
Finally, Elton John was right. Sorry is the hardest word. But it is a word worth saying. It is worth saying in order to prove our integrity, sincerity and honesty to the people we care about. Those reading this can be in no doubt that these words come from my heart and are written with the utmost integrity honesty and sincerity in mind.