Recognising who they are

“The stronger person is not the one making the most noise but the one who can quietly direct the conversation toward defining and solving problems.”

(~ Aaron T Beck)

In my early teens I used to read spin-off comics based on the Aliens films. The idea was that astronaut Ellen Ripley had to protect her friends and loved ones from screaming monsters whose sole obsession is the ability to procreate for their egg-laying queen. One particular book was titled The Female War, a title which immediately bubbled back to mind when I was mentally pre-writing this post.

This week the Scottish Parliament voted 86-39 to make it easier for trans folk to legally change their gender. People in Scotland have been able to do this since 2005, but the process is cumbersome and stressful and puts people off applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. The simplified process – “Self-ID” – can be found around the world in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay.

In the 2016 Scottish general election, the SNP, Greens, and Labour all had gender recognition reform in their manifestos; the Conservatives didn’t put it in their 2015 UK election manifesto, but the idea was uncontroversial enough for even Theresa May to support it. Naturally, by 2022 this obscure administrative procedure affecting a tiny minority of the population drew little media attention and was passed quietly.

Oh, who am I fucking kidding?

It took six years, but was still described in the press as “controversial”, “rushed” or “forced through”. When the vote passed, a screaming TERF stood up to flash her home-made merkin to everyone in the Scottish Parliament chamber; men, women and children. Yes, it’s a weird as it sounds. And “Screaming Terf Merkin” is going to be the name of my death metal band.

Now, as a crossdresser, this doesn’t affect me much. When it comes to the ‘trans debate‘, I have no dogs in this fight. I am merely a bystander, hoping it can help my trans friends, and glad in a general sense that my country is looking out for minority groups and making their lives even just a little bit easier. I’ve written in support of trans issues in the past, and I think it’s one of those things you have to reaffirm.

The one small way it does affect me is that crossdressers are dragged into the arguments by TERFs – essentially, saying that trans women are nothing more than a cosmetic expression (and ‘not really women’), and therefore no different to crossdressers; but worse – they crossdress for the express purpose of invading women’s spaces (toilets, changing rooms, sports events, refuges, prisons).

The argument goes along the lines that predatory men – sex pests and rapists – would be able to use Gender Recognition Certificates like Willy Wonka’s golden tickets and storm these places unopposed. As a consequence of this, women’s spaces have to be rigorously policed, lest a man dressed as a woman slip inside: woman and girls must be protected. If you disagree you want to “destroy women’s rights.”

On one side, women like Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, or other politicians like SNP MP Mhairi Black arguing in favour of the changes, pointing out that it’s predatory men, not trans women who are the threat; on the other side are the likes of JK Rowling, or Joanna Cherry QC (also a SNP MP). This is an argument over women, for women, by women.

Hence my opening reference to The Female War.

The obsession with reproduction shows itself in the TERFs’ supposed ‘gotcha!’ question of how one defines a woman (along the lines of the Polish enyclopaedia definition of a horse). Usually it comes down to genitals and babymaking (as long as you’re not referring to women who’ve had hysterectomies, or who are otherwise unable to conceive because that would make the definition argument a bit complicated). Another formulation goes along the lines of “can a woman have a penis?” (My answer: it depends on the woman.)

Anyone who’s subjected themselves to the sight of Sean Connery in a red nappy with a ponytail, pornstache and thigh-high fuck-me boots might remember the line from Zardoz: “THE PENIS IS EVIL!!!”

I have a lot of sympathy with that kind of instinctive revulsion. I went to a boys-only school, memories of which revolve around the years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I was surrounded by dicks in both literal and metaphorical senses. I fucking loathe the thought of communal, public nudity. The idea of being surrounded by naked cocks feels threatening and makes my skin crawl, and I’ve got one of the damn things. (NB: the shower area at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon resort was a bit of a trial; and I was 37 when I went there.)

But the argument about the potential horror of women or girls seeing a penis in the changing rooms is an argument against open-plan changing rooms, not trans women. (My preferred swimming pool is the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh: private cubicles.)

As for toilets, I don’t know of anyone who goes marching or dashing into public toilets with everything hanging out on display (except, maybe, good ol’ Screamin’ Terf Merkin?). And if a predatory man wanted to burst into the ladies’ toilets for a wank, he wouldn’t need a Gender Recognition Certificate or even to crossdress – this guy didn’t, and this guy didn’t have anything at all.

In sports, any law or test created for gender, cisgender people will fail as well. Hormones? Some cis women have ‘male’ levels. Chromosomes? In the 1996 Olympics ten cis women had XY chromosomes with intersex conditions and were caught out. Genitals? Ambiguity does exist. The fear is that trans women will have some sort of innate advantage over other women and take all the medals. This hasn’t happened, and the very few who have won any medals have made the news precisely because they are so rare (and precisely because they can be used as examples for TERFs to claim their fears are valid).

Other concerns are already addressed within the legislation: more time for younger trans folk to think about it, cooling-off periods, the option to change back, and making it illegal to falsely claim a certificate. Regarding prisons, if a cis man falsely applied for a GRC he would end up with a conviction for fraudulent self-ID; the Scottish Prison Service would decide which prison he’d go to and his terms of imprisonment, based on their assessment of risk to this person and risk to other prisoners – having an amended birth certificate does nothing one way or another to help or hinder a sexual predator.

This isn’t to say that all the fears or criticisms are unreasonable; I think certain group counselling sessions should be carefully chosen – I can see how it would be inappropriate for a trans woman who still expresses herself in a ‘masculine’ way (for example, at the start of her transition) to attend a woman’s group with sensitive subject matter, such as survivors of trauma or abuse – counselling in these cases would have to be accommodated, and it’s surely not beyond the wit of organisers to figure out options. I think it’s worth asking waxing salons if they do penises and scrotums instead of simply expecting it. And that’s before getting into the minefield of dating and sex – one can never assume one’s genitals will be welcome and you can’t force people to look at them, let alone like them. Please take note, Screamin’ Terf Merkin.

*

The one group that loses out from the policing of women’s and girls’ spaces is… women and girls. If a girl is deemed too successful at sports, parents can accuse her of being trans. Most supporters of these draconian laws never think it’ll happen to them or their daughters – “I never thought leopards would eat MY face, sobs woman who voted for Leopards-Eating-People’s-Faces Party”.

JK Rowling claims she only wants to look out for the rights of women and girls. Her latest venture was to set up a trans-exclusionary service who provide “support and advocacy” for sexual assault victims. Board members include Rhona Hotchkiss, a prison governor whose prison was condemned by inspectors for the frequent abuse of women prisoners by her staff.

Not a great start, and there’s a whiff of authoritarianism there. Some mistake surely? But then there’s this:

“Nobody but the very naive can fail to be aware that predatory men are capable of going to great lengths to gain easy access to victims, and have often sought out professions or special status that offer camouflage for their activities. Sex offenders have historically been found among social workers, teachers, priests, doctors, babysitters, school caretakers, celebrities and charity fundraisers, yet no matter how often the scandals break, the lesson appears never to be learned: it is dangerous to assert that any category of people deserves a blanket presumption of innocence.

“… This shouldn’t need saying, but in the current climate, it does: literally no feminist I’ve ever met claims all trans women are predators, any more than we believe that all men are predators.”

~ JK Rowling, The Times, 16 October 2022

Oh.

So JKR isn’t into that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing? And the backtracking at the end gives the quote the same energy as Donald Trump when he said of Mexicans, “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

But just because the children’s author (who wrote of a super-wealthy boy wizard at an exclusive private school with happy slaves and antisemitic stereotypes looking after his money) can be compared with far-right extremists doesn’t mean that all anti-trans people are like that, surely? I mean, yes, yes, the actual Nazis destroyed a centre dedicated to LGBT research, but what about the 21st century?

Eh, well… anti-trans group LGB Alliance shares its address (55 Tufton Street, London) with right-wing think tanks and pressure groups (like the one that persuaded Britain’s worst prime minister and chancellor to blow £30billion in seven weeks).

Jane Carnall summarises the development like this (essentially, the roots can be found in the USA exporting its social and cultural neuroses):

“Strictly in a local phenomenon, there have always been a subgroup of radical feminists – by no means all radical feminists – who believe very strongly that women are oppressed because of our biology, and men have male privilege because of *their* biology, and therefore trans women have male privilege and can’t experience oppression as women. These TERFs – Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists – have never been a large or a very influential group. They would doubtless have protested the Gender Recognition Reform legislation, but it’s hard to see how far they could have got if they were just the likes of Julie Bindel, who also protested largely against civil partnership (and then registered a civil partnership herself, because, she said insouciently, her girlfriend wanted it).

“What happened in October 2017 was a summit meeting of the Christian Right in the US after they had just lost the marriage-equality decision at the Supreme Court. They mooted the idea that they could “separate the T from LGB” – and attack trans rights by affecting to pretend they cared about the rights of women. Does anyone believe the Christian Right/the Republican Party care about women’s rights? It is to laugh.

“But in the UK, it happened that this Christian Right funded campaign met and melded with a handful of women already inclined to oppose GRR. Magically, when these women published articles claiming GRR was dangerous, they found armies of twitterbots RTing their articles: if they decided to set up an organisation and crowdfund, they found money pouring in to their online fundraising accounts. Lots of money.

“We’ve seen this happen before. Abortion rights activists know that quite small and apparently quite ineffective “prolife” groups can nonetheless raise tons of money to pay for billboards, placards, posters, t-shirts – can provide resources for people to go talk to politicians: can fund the costs for “prolife” interns to work for a MP or MSP for free. Where does this money come from? Well, we see it flowing out from US far-right organisations, and we see money flowing into UK organisations that support those US far-right goals, and – it’s surprisingly hard to definitely prove there’s a direct link. All we have is a lot of smoking guns.

“And it’s exactly the same with the anti-trans movement. They claim to be “grassroots funded”, and there may well be some of the money going in that’s genuinely local: but much of it almost certainly isn’t.

“What we’ve seen in the UK since 2018 has been a dangerous rise of a loud far right campaign, targeting trans people, claiming their justification is “sex-based women’s rights”. This as a legal concept of including cis women & trans men, and excluding cis men and trans women, doesn’t exist in the UK. Cis and trans women have been protected against discrimination *as women* since the 1990s by the Sex Discrimination Act which was rolled into the 2010 Equality Act: trans people, women and men, are protected against transphobic discrimination by the 2010 Equality Act – as are lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people protected against homophobic discrimination, whether we are cis or trans.

“Trans rights and women’s rights are no more in conflict than women’s rights and lesbian rights, and for the same reason. Christians have argued that *their* religious rights need to be protected against LGBT rights, but by that in general they mean that they want a secular right to discriminate against LGBT people respected in law, not that they cannot worship God in their own way unless they are allowed to promote hate against LGBT people as part of that worship.”

Jane Carnall, Facebook post, 22 December

*

Just because a fascist fuckwit makes a particular point, I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand straight away – is there any nugget of wisdom or an improvement or safeguard that can be gleaned? (For another nerd reference, I’m thinking of a line in a relevant episode of The Orville where Captain Mercer talks about policing himself.) As I said earlier, I’m pretty much a bystander in this. I can afford to take these little intellectual double-takes without feeling like I’m attacking the core of my being. The closest I got, as I wrote above, was a vague sympathy for the emotional disgust of penises. But when I considered the cases, I found there were alternate solutions, either accounted for already, or which could potentially be brought in if required.

It’s vitally important for trans folk to be recognised and accepted for who they are, legally and by society. I would not want it any other way. Ideally, society should be managed in a way that a minority group won’t have to be treated like they were a minority group. Sadly, we are far from living in that ideal society.

I think it’s also important to recognise their opponents for who they are too.

And when your opponents’ poster girl is Screamin’ Terf Merkin, you know you’re doing something right.

Three days of Twist-ing

Last autumn I gave myself the challenge of staying in Twist mode non-stop for three days. A couple of friends fancied a girly weekend in the Scottish Highlands, and invited me along. I could provide the transport; another had friends of her family who let out a grand house for visitors and we could stay there for free; the third was a foodie who could take care of our dining.

For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to us as the tree-hugger. the grave-hugger, and me (the silly bugger). Honestly, we’re a bunch of misfits. I’d been on trips with them before, but this was the first time we’d all been together.

Daaaaamn that’s an epic old house!

I’d already been growing my hair out for over a year and a half over the pandemic, so I dyed it to hide the grey and freed myself from the need to wear my wig all the time. Part of the plan was for the tree hugger and I to plunge into a nearby loch on Saturday morning, so in addition to waxing my neck, jaw, and chin, I went nuts and had the whole lot below my nostrils taken off. I’ll talk about this another time…

Happy Locktober to all who celebrate?

Friday was taken up with driving from Edinburgh to Kingussie, our home for the weekend. The house was grand, and filled with all sorts of antiques, curios and old, old books. It had a huge garden, and was surprisingly cosy.

In Kingussie itself, I’m pretty certain I was the first transvestite the town had seen. Most people were dressed comfortably and casually, or for hiking about the hills. And then there was me, dressed like… well, regular readers have seen how I dress. (I went into casual mode with a hoodie and leggings in the evening when we got back).

We pottered around the village and ventured into an art gallery where I bought a cushion for my living room from the artist herself (it really ties the room together). Then we chilled out with food, wine, reading, and an antique stereographic picture viewer.

Left: peeking at the past in 3D… Right: peekaboo!

There was some deliberation about which loch the tree-hugger and I should plunge into. Our best option was Loch Morlich, a short drive up the road. The weather wasn’t as sunny as we’d expected, and there was snow on the hills in the distance. The tree-hugger had been getting used to cold-water swimming as part of a long-term health kick. I… had not. The grave hugger was the only sensible one in our trio, and remained on shore taking photos.

The wind made the waters incredibly choppy. I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my wig, and I’d found – after 13 years – a more comfortable alternative to my joke shop boobies: soft, padded inserts that I could slip into pockets in my swimsuit (I bought two pairs, and slipped the second pair into my bra. So comfortable! Why hadn’t I done this before???)

Once I got over the pain of the cold water, I found it oddly energising, and actually missed it once we got out and back onto the sand. Even so, it was so cold my nuts made like a bad science paper and went for a complete retraction. (Too much info?)

Left: home sweet home until the late 19th century… Right: getting into my retro domestic groove…

Saturday afternoon was spent at the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore. Long-term readers will have picked up I’m a massive nerd and history is one of my interests. This place is amazing – recreations of homes and lifestyles going back through the centuries. It was quite busy, and there were still a few pandemic restrictions in place, but we got to see pretty good variety of what the place had to offer, and chatted with one of the guides at a recreation of the oldest-style homestead. (I’d recently finished reading Boswell and Johnson’s trip through Scotland in the 1700s, so it was interesting to see the sort of place they’d have stayed in.)

FOR SALE: Highland home, great views, well ventilated, real fixer-upper…

We had an evening walk to a nearby loch in the hills (because we hadn’t done enough already that day), before crashing out for the night.

We went to the Highland Wildlife Park on Sunday morning; the first time for me and the tree-hugger, but along-overdue revisit for the grave-hugger who’d been when she was a child. It was spectacularly autumnal – low sun lit the trees in a blaze of bright yellow and orange against dark, brooding clouds.

And that was it – just time for lunch and a quick tidy-up before heading back home.

On a personal level, I enjoyed hanging out with friends in girly mode. Most of my friends are women – part of me wonders if it has something to do with a childhood going to a boys-only school (I’m convinced thirteen years of single-sex education will fuck you up on some level). As I’ve noted before, Twist is just a cosmetic thing – and me going into ‘girly mode’ means making an effort.

Glad I made the effort – it was a bloody good weekend!

Branching out to the Highlands…

Girly road trip: Scotland’s tropics, epic pics

Last summer I stopped by the set of Indiana Jones and went to the southernmost point of Scotland. And, yes, changed my dress along the way for the sake of variety.

Glasgow city centre had been remade as New York in 1969(?), so I plumped for my short, retro minidress. It was about 7am on a Sunday morning, and I managed to sweet-talk the bemused and baffled security people into letting me slip past the gates for a couple of minutes to get some shots in – I didn’t chance my luck by walking onto the main set, but I think I did well enough.

This is the face of someone who got up way too early.

I think the guards took it well – I mean, they’re paid a pittance, and they’re not expecting a crossdresser turning up first thing on a Sunday to prance about in heels around their workplace. As for the film, I’m kinda shrugface about seeing it; I’m pretty much done with seeing my childhood heroes return to TV or cinemas looking and acting all old, sad, and tired.

Ailsa Craig: Imagine the screeching of car tyres, me hopping out, a quick photo being taken, then leaping back into the car and driving off with squealing tyres and a roaring engine.

We stopped off for an impromptu shot of the island of Ailsa Craig just off the Ayshire coast before arriving at Logan Botanical Garden on the Mull of Galloway. I gather it’s in some sort of microclimate, and on a good summer’s day resembles the Isles of Scilly rather than Scotland…

This is the front gate…
Hello there!
Wonderwall?

My dress was rather short. I’d try to pull the hem down a bit, but there’s not actually any more hem to pull down. So I have to walk and pose carefully, lest I flash my knickers at unsuspecting passers-by. Reader, I flashed my knickers at unsuspecting passers-by. And because this was a botanic garden in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday, the others were all pensioners: goggle-eyed old men and their disapproving wives ushering them away from the brazen hussy in the slutty dress (“This way, Gerald! It’s more civilised over here!”)

Left: this is what I look like when I’m chasing Jeff Goldblum in a jeep. Right: FILTH, sheer filth, and I’d do it again.

The gardens featured a few novelties, like a tyrannosaurus made out of growing tree branches, and large phallic-shaped flowers that were begging for suggestive photos. I have to say, photos aside, that it was the perfect day to visit and I’d go there again – it’s got all the tropical appeal of a foreign holiday, yet it’s all within a morning’s drive from Edinburgh…

Got wood?
Sploosh
I see London, I see France…

Just a little bit further south (and one change of dress later) is the Mull of Galloway lighthouse, the southernmost tip of the Scottish mainland. It’s characterised by steep cliffs and a touristy cafe which might have steep prices, but I can’t honestly tell you (for these trips we bring picnic lunches…).

I’ve got this thing about great heights and steep drops: it’s not vertigo, it’s more a sense that I love the view but a fucked-up little voice in my head keeps saying “jump… just jump.. do it… wheee! end it…. splat.. go on… jump…” and I find myself staying well away from the edge.

My other worry was gusts of wind threatening to make my dress lift up and make me Marilyn Monroe in front of everyone else.

Just the tip: the Mull of Galloway

Otherwise, it’s not a place you’re likely to spend a huge amount of time. We headed back up to Castle Kennedy, a ruin with fabulous gardens. Fabulous gardens you say? Time to strike some fabulous poses and ignore the families on their day out from Glasgow…

Wrecked

There’s a lot to explore in the estate: colourful walled gardens, a lake, art features, bridges and walking paths all over the place. We could stroll about at a gentle pace. It wasn’t hugely busy, and it made for a relaxing end to the day out. (The journey home was enlivened by a prick in a sports car being chased by the police along the M74 and pulled over – seeing that kind of quick karma was the cherry on the cake of a great day out!)

Adding a bit of colour
Fucking roasting
Wish you were here?

Girly road trip: what’s in for you at Inverewe

I like to get around a bit. Travelling, I mean. So one challenge I occasionally give myself is to see how far I can travel in a day in girly mode before a combination of tiredness and beard growth ruins the effect.

I fucking love an exciting road trip.

Last year I figured we could get to Inverewe garden, which is way up in the remote north-west of Scotland, and stop off at any scenic points of interest along the way. To get this done in a single day, we had to leave at sparrowfart, aka “silly o’clock”, aka “what the hell time do you call this?” We had a picnic breakfast halfway up the A9 between Edinburgh and Inverness. You don’t do a trip like this for the glamour…

Gorge-ous.

Our first scenic stop was Corrieshalloch Gorge, where I found out two things:

  • it was impossible to get a photo that showed both me and the sheer depth of the gorge in the same shot; and
  • other people were dressed in sturdy hiking boots and waterproof gear – I was the only one who’s chosen to wear a cardigan and fabulous dress (which nicely hid my struggle with lockdown flab).
An Teallach is a mountain whose name makes English-speakers sound like they’re talking with their mouth full.

The only other scenic stop was an impromptu pause at the roadside to get a view of proper highland wilderness. I figured this trip was likely to be a one-and-only-chance to get photos at these places, so I became more vigilant for epic views.

Yes, I always check the weather before risking a long road trip…

Inverewe garden takes advantage of a microclimate just off the Gulf Stream, so it has a whole load of tropical plants growing there. We’d been there a few years earlier when the ‘North Coast 500‘ had just been established, and we could now see hints that over the pandemic some parts of the garden’s upkeep must’ve been less of a priority (we explored the whole lot). That’s not to say it was overgrown or ruined – far from it! – simply that a few bits simply weren’t as pristine as they used to be.

Yes, this is the north-west coast of Scotland. No, I can’t believe it either.

Naturally, I can’t do photos without acting like a daft arse, so here you go:

Aw man that’s some good shit right there, BRING THE POLLEN! BRING THE HAYFEVER!!!
I’m all about boobs and plants, yo.
Apparently it is easy being green after all

It took hours to get there, so with the knowledge that it’d take hours to get back home we had to head back after lunchtime and take advantage of whatever scenic views we could get on the way. We’d also been incredibly fortunate with the weather. Not bad for the first girly road trip since before Covid-19!

Gairloch: I’m sure there are gayer lochs, but I don’t know where they are.
Loch Bad an Sgalaig is another challenge for people who don’t speak Gaelic… (Google Translate says it means “patch the scalp” which leaves me none the wiser)
Loch Maree: I don’t think I was supposed to be here.

Our last stop was at Loch Maree where I’d spotted a pier at a scenic viewpoint on the online maps. When we got there we found the short driveway down to the lochside was barred by a locked gate. Yet another car was parked there and a family swimming in the loch.

We went down to take photos, and the family group all got out of the water, flustered, and in a hurry to leave. I suspect they – like us – were chancing it, and we were all tresspassing.

What the hell. I got the photo I was after. But in a moment of stupidity I left my sunglasses on the pier. They’re probably still there for all I know.

So much for “take only photos, leave only memories”!

Girly road trip: Dumbarton rocks?

A couple of years back I went on a day trip with one of my friends to Dumbarton, on the grounds that I hadn’t been there before and I also wanted to get some photos from around the west of Scotland for a change.

I have mastered the single entendre.

I wear my history nerdishness lightly, but I’ve long been interested in Dumbarton Rock, which was the last northern stronghold of the ancient Britons to fall to the Vikings in the eighth century (welcome to my blog; come for the crossdressing, stay for the history!).

It was a good day for it, and we could see for miles all around from Glasgow to Holy Loch and Benmore. It’s easy to see why there’s always been one castle or another here over the centuries (the name comes from Gaelic ‘Dùn Breatann‘, or ‘Fort of the Britons’). It had a garrison of soldiers until World War 2, but now most of it’s a mishmash of fortifications, old storage buildings, and ruins.

Inspired by the Greek myth of Andromeda. And bondage.

Aside from cannons serving purely decorative purposes, there are still mysterious remnants, like large metal rings embedded in the rockface. were they used for ropes to haul ammo and food around? Or flags? Or to anchor things in place? (I found my own uses.)

Flagging a bit in the high winds…

The top of the rock was exposed to high winds blowing off the Atlantic, so I’m glad I had a hair band clasping my wig to my head. Fortunately my friend was a photographer and worked out how to get the best shots…

The only spot on Dumbarton Rock without wind…

We had a short picnic in the sun on one of the battlements and pottered about the surviving buildings. The place works well for a short blast of fresh air and exercise!

Getting carried away?

At this pandemic-y moment in 2022 (in Scotland at least), most of my friends are still wary about travelling and mingling too much, but when things improve, you’d better believe I’ll be posting more travels around the country!
(Edited to add: HOLY SHIT THIS IS MY BLOG’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY POST!)

Dumbarton rocks!