Happy Christmas

The Winter Gardens have been decorated for Christmas, and a more traditional fir tree has been installed temporarily among the tropical foliage. It looked rather lovely so I attempted to take a selfie with the tree as a backdrop, but it didn’t quite work. A very kind lady popped up out of nowhere, having seen me struggling to get the angle right, and offered to take this picture, which was very sweet of her. I think she’s composed the photo rather well.

Human interaction is the more precious when it occurs at present, because of its comparative scarcity. We wear masks and keep our distance for good reason, but we need each other. It has been lovely to meet up with friends during the last year, despite these constraints, but I miss the carelessness of social interactions before March last year. I hope it may return. But there is a sense in which the pandemic mirrors the experiences of so many of we t-girls: I cannot express myself in the way that I would like whenever and wherever I like, and understanding and living with those limitations is necessary if I am to have a contented existence. When opportunities come along, they must be grasped with both hands, savoured, and memories treasured; the knots unwound, and equilibrium restored, if only for a passing interval. Carpe diem.

Milestones

A significant milestone has been creeping up on me almost unnoticed. It may sound incredible to younger folk, who have grown up in a world in which self-expression is unfettered, but it took me until my forties to finally step out into the world dressed as a woman. I remember in Autumn 2011 visiting a shop that specialised in supporting the TG community to purchase a wig. The very nice lady who helped me explained that they had a customer who came in dressed. I remember expressing my astonishment; the thought had never seriously crossed my mind. Being TG was an itch that I needed to scratch in private.

There followed in December that year an unsuccessful photo session in Manchester, to provide photos for an online profile I was developing. While I felt good at the photo session, the results were dreadful (the lighting was all wrong) and the disk of photos went into my dustbin. Undeterred, however, I purchased a digital camera and began experimenting, posting photos to Flickr, where I discovered a wonderful group of like-minded t-girls. This was a monumental step for me – it was the first time that Karen had been presented to the outside world, albeit in a virtual sense. Below is one of the photos from my first session with a digital camera – still there in my Flickr profile. The butterfly was starting to emerge from its chrysalis; these digital photos were the first steps on the road to my emergence fully into the world.

As 2011 turned into 2012, the urge to get “out” began to present itself to my conscious mind. The urge grew, and in May 2012 I stepped out onto the streets of Leeds to attend Leeds First Friday. In some senses, this didn’t feel entirely like getting “out” because I stayed in a hotel full of t-girls and spent the evening with other t-girls. Perhaps the most significant milestone in my development was when I travelled to Manchester later that year to attend Sparkle. On the Friday evening I wandered off into gentle drizzle, on my own, and had my first experience of mingling with society as Karen. I have written about that experience elsewhere in these pages, and won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say, my life changed from that point on.

The first few excursions were accompanied by a pounding heart and a sense of doing something profoundly new and rather risky. Would my disguise slip, how would people react to me, what if they read me? Would they think I was some sort of pervert? As years passed I gradually became more relaxed about getting out. I no longer experience a pounding heart, although I know that I’m more vulnerable en femme and people do occasionally react strangely. However, scrapes have been few and far between and on the whole, I have found people to be incredibly warm and accepting; sometimes curious, and intrigued, but usually very happy to treat me as one of the girls. Being out has passed from momentous to everyday, but it is not for one moment something that I take for granted. It is the means by which I hold together the complex parts of my once fractured self. I plan carefully for excursions, setting time aside in my diary. Even during lockdown, I took trips out, if only to visit the supermarket, because I know that in a complex and mysterious way, it is necessary to be Karen from time to time. Perhaps in other circumstances Karen would become the only expression of the person who I am, and perhaps not; I do not know – there is simply who I am now, in the circumstances in which I find myself, with the commitments that I have. But for the freedom that I have – particularly as somebody who grew up in much less tolerant and understanding times – I am profoundly grateful. Where I will be in ten years’ time, I cannot say. But if the next ten years bring half the contentment that the last ten have, I will count myself very fortunate.

I Too can Read

In these strange days where so much of life occurs online, people give TV interviews from home, more often than not with a bookshelf as the backdrop. Is it really the case that in most people’s homes the best place to set up a webcam is just in front of a bookshelf? Or are people trying to tell us something about their intellects? Private Eye used to run a column called Pseuds Corner, and I detect the scent of psuedery here! I wish that interviewers would ask politicians about the titles on their shelves – in Nietzsche’s words, “to pose questions with a hammer and perhaps to receive for answer that famous hollow sound that speaks of inflated bowels”. Having conducted much of my professional life during the last year sitting on a sofa adorned only by a few tastefully coordinating cushions, I began to feel that perhaps I too ought to demonstrate my literacy to the world by appearing in front of a bookshelf. In the interests of full disclosure, I must declare that I have not read the Habermas, and fear that I never will. However, I particularly enjoyed the Victor Book for Boys. As for the Heidegger, all I can say is “das Nichts selbst nichtet”.

For Everything there is a Season

It’s April, but the sun has shone, and today I’ve been able to go out barelegged, wearing sandals. It’s always lovely to feel warm air on bare legs for the first time each spring; it feels as though the dark days of winter are behind and the summer lies ahead. I enjoy these natural cycles; I rejoice in the newness of the seasons as they arrive. As summer ends, the days grow cooler but there are apples to pick in my garden. Nature’s cycles remind us of our mortality, and of the unchanging character of the natural world (at least on any timescale relevant to human beings), and they help me to reflect on my life, its purpose, and how I can use such time as is available to me. Today it simply feels good to be alive, and to enjoy the warm sun and the blossom on the trees.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1,4)