Friday, 5 November 2010

Remembering Sonia


The one solace in death is that if you live your life well, you will be remembered for it. That the person you have created yourself to be will be recalled fondly at your funeral. However, transgendered lawyer Sonia Burgess, tragically killed last week under the wheels of a tube train, hasn’t been given this privilege. A hugely respected human rights lawyer who was, from the rush of praise being sent in after her death, clearly loved by everyone who met her. Yet the British press is portraying her life and death as a hugely seedy matter, as if the only thing more shocking than someone being pushed under a train is that the said person was wearing women’s clothing. I can’t abide reading as the papers insist on calling her by her birth name of David and referring to her as ‘he’ throughout their coverage when this is so clearly what she would have hated.
You may wonder how I, a 25-year-old straight female, could possibly understand how Sonia would feel if she could read the articles dismissing her true identity. But I can, for when I originally read the story I was shaking so hard I had to sit down. For Sonia with her well-respected career, loving family could have been my Dad.

If you’ve ever had a conversation with my Dad or seen one of her plays you’ll realize why it is no exaggeration when I say that I could not have asked for a better parent. I have been raised phenomenally (if I do say so myself!) and have never, ever felt unloved. I’ve been taught so much and have never had to be ashamed of who I am. My Dad however hasn’t been as lucky. Conceived during her parents' mourning for the premature baby girl they had lost, my dad was carried in a womb that was suffused with longing for another girl.

She grew up in a state of terrible confusion: trying to make sense of a deep feeling that somehow this wasn't the body she was supposed to be in. Her feelings became clearer to her as she failed to bond with her father whilst growing up and was packed away to an all boys boarding school where there was nothing worse than being effeminate. Bullied badly the only place where she felt confident was on the stage, where her girlish looks earned her the female parts. Happiest when wearing a wig she quickly realized why she felt so uncomfortable in her male body. This revelation brought relief but also fear, being transgendered back then was so unknown there wasn’t even a word for it, never mind people who she could reach out to, people who understood. It was only forty years later, coming out to her friends and family that she stopped feeling ashamed and discovered that there were people who understood her and loved her for exactly who she is.

My Dad, being in the public eye, has had her fair share of being in the papers. Only recently she attracted 250 protestors to the opening of her new play – Jesus Queen of Heaven – that she starred in, playing a transgendered Jesus. During this time there were certain papers (prizes for guessing which ones!) who refused to name her in the female pronoun. Considering her wardrobe full of women’s clothes, her female body and a passport which under ‘sex’ has a proud, and unquestionable ‘F” this is transphobia in its worst form. It amazes me that we live in such a supposedly progressive country, that is finally beginning to accept other people’s cultures and beliefs, yet is still so backward in its treatment of transgendered people.

My Dad has had people coming up to her on the street and asking whether her hair is a wig, had junkies singing abusive songs after her and school children yelling ‘it looks like a man’ after her. Because of this type of abuse many transgendered people fear leaving the house. And what has happened to Sonia Burgess and the way the press have reported on her death isn’t helping them open the door.

I have read a couple of posts on the internet, with people commenting that Sonia’s sex shouldn’t be an issue, that the only thing people should be worried about is the loss of someone, who from the sound of it, was truly inspirational. This is a good sign, it shows people aren’t being as influenced by Rupert Murdoch as he would like. However, there needs to be more awareness, more transgendered role models like my Dad and I hope that, in the dark of Sonia’s tragic death, there is light as people being to see, when they hear the words ‘transgendered woman’ not a clich├ęd drag Queen dancing on speed at a fetish night but a strong, inspirational woman who has overcome her fear of being truly herself.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Treasured Trinkets


Having just moved in with my boyfriend, I love to take pleasure in the little objects he has brought with him. Not the huge pile of books (now nicely adjoined with my collection making it look a little more intelligent) nor the tool set sprawled across the spare bedroom. But the insignificant things:

The egg-shaped pillow on our bed, the little orange ashtray, the Yorkshire tea bags and the HP brown sauce: I smile every time I see them. You may wonder why, when really, in the scheme of things, they make no difference at all.
But I know that if he weren’t here, they wouldn’t be either.
When you think about losing someone close to you, you think of their personal traits: their laugh, how a hug from them can make you feel like everything is going to be OK or the fact that you know they will always be there if you need to speak to them.

When I discovered my Mum was going to die these are the things I thought I wouldn’t be able to live without. But now she’s gone, although I do miss all those things, it’s the tiny things that choke me, the missing items that mean she isn’t still here.
When she had a bath she’d liberally sprinkle talcum powder all over herself, leaving a Mum-shaped shadow on the bathroom floor. And chopsticks! We had so many chopsticks in the kitchen drawer, collected from Chinese restaurants all around the world. There was also her orange and black writing pens, a selection of herbal remedies (which were forced down our throats as children) and a grey fur coat hanging on the hook when you entered the house.

Slowly these things have disappeared. The coat’s stored away, the pens thrown out, the talcum powder is sitting unused on our bathroom shelf and no one seems to know where all the chopsticks have gone.
And if you ever stumble across, say a stray pen or a pot of arnica, they look sad somehow. Dead. As they have no one to love them.
And I know I could take the coat out of storage, wear it, love it and hang it on a hook. Or take a bath and dust myself with the talc. And then the items would be loved. But it wouldn’t be the same.

For the coat on the hook meant that shortly I’d be hearing a call of: “cooeee! Welcome home!” and the talc shadow meant she was in bed, reading and I could slip in beside her for a goodnight cuddle, inhaling that special Johnson’s Baby Powder scent.
So now, in this new house, far away from the empty coat hook and lost chopsticks, I appreciate everything belonging to the one I love.

The little orange ashtray means soon he will be home, smoking a cigarette with his arms loosely draped around me and at bedtime the egg-shaped pillow will come to life, propped behind his bed whilst he reads the latest sci-fi novel.

So next time you’re cleaning the house and scowling about clutter, remember exactly what that mess means: that someone will be returning home soon, for you to wrap your arms round.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Are we all love rats?


"For me, it's never going to be about one relationship... life is a series of relationships..."

This is, apparently, what Sam Mendes said to Kate Winslet whilst ending their marriage.

Alongside Mark Owen, Tiger Woods, Ashley Cole and Jesse James he is joining a long line of celebrity men for whom one woman, it seems, is not enough.

All this has got me (and the media) thinking about fidelity. Is it over? Can one person commit to someone for the rest of their life?

I'd like to think so. It may be me being hopelessly naive but I believe that, for some, there is one person. What I don't believe is that that one person is everything.

Yes, life is a series of relationships but they don't necessarily have to be sexual. I despair at women abandoning their friends for a new man or those who ditch their career the moment they get a whiff of marriage. I believe these women are not only damaging to feminism today but also are damaging their own relationships in the process.

Looking at successful relationships I notice one thing in common: hobbies. Something else to talk about. Other relationships to stimulate you, be they with your boss, your best friend or your trainer. It's not a groundbreaking theory, it won't sell millions of self help books but I do think it is the key to making a relationship last - letting other people in.

So, what if the people you let in are sexually involved in your life? Is this a bad thing?

In the case of the above men, yes it is. You only had to take one look at Mark Owen's wife Emma's face in the papers to see how truly devastating this was to her. This wasn't just sleeping with other women - it was betrayal. It was breaking everything he had ever said to her.

My parents began their relationship as an open one, they didn't believe in fidelity and didn't think that sex was something only to be shared between man and wife. However, my Dad told me once that despite this agreement he never slept with anyone else. Neither did my mother.

However, had they crossed that line it would have been an OK one to cross. Because the betrayal wouldn't have been there. I've never had any experience of an open relationship nor have I ever spoken to anyone in one and I'm sure they have their problems. But I doubt that feeling of complete let down, of being deflated and broken by the one person you trust isn't there. Because there is no need to deceive.

I'm not saying I'm about to run to my boyfriend and suggest we sleep with other people because I know that wouldn't work for us. I can't bear the thought of him being with someone else.

However, as much as that thought wounds me the one that makes me feel even worse is the thought of me cheating on him. Sometimes I picture his face if I ever did cheat on him - it makes me feel like I'm collapsing inside. And I know I could never do that to him.

We joke about the famous 'list' - the 5 celebrities that you could sleep with and not get into trouble - but, in reality, if Keith Flynt of Prodigy fame (an odd choice, I know!) came up to me and suggested it, I couldn't do it despite being 'allowed' to.

For after 5 years with the same man, having gone through everything we have, I simply cannot imagine being with someone else. In our years to come together I am sure we will go through more problems, more glitches and more fights and I know that at some point we will both be tempted to cheat. But at the same time we will live through so much more happiness. And those moments, those future moments, the present moments just aren't worth the risk.

I do hope that this discussion in the media is shining a light that all relationships are different. As are all love 'rats'. Everyone betrays the ones they love for a different reason, maybe for some it isn't betrayal at all.

I hope this new decade brings about a more openness to different structures of marriage, the different ways we love. And that, hopefully, in the future, if someone needs to go for sex elsewhere they can. Without leaving a devastating trail of heartache behind them.

A sincere apology and a serious rant

Okay, I've not been the best. Certainly for someone who promised, PROMISED to keep up with this blog. A gap this big is unforgivable and I will understand if you choose not to forgive me.

The thing is, it's a lot harder to keep this going than I originally thought. A few entries a week? All about my own selfish thoughts? Pah! Easy! Or so I thought...

The thing is, although I'm thinking, thinking, thinking all the time, I often don't have enough time to put my thoughts down on paper... or indeed in a word document (that's how we seem to roll these days...)

Either that or I'm too exhausted with the struggle of trying to make it that I neglect the one thing that is essential to me making it: this blog.

But you see it's so very, very hard to keep your ambitions alive. Every morning on my way to my next placement - where I know I will be working harder than anyone else there yet earning nothing, sometimes not even a byline for my troubles - I pass someone opening up their shop in the morning or simply sweeping the streets and I think: wouldn't it be so much easier if I had no desire to write at all? I could get a job in a shop, open it up in the morning, chat to customers, before coming home to a nice glass of white wine and a warm bed. When I worked in a department store I met so many women who were happy with this life. People automatically think that if you work in a shop or you're 'just' a waitress that means you have no ambition. But ambition doesn't necessarily have to be work related.

I aspire to be loved. I aspire to love. I aspire to make more friends. I aspire to keep the friends I've got. I aspire to having the most perfect Cath Kidston guest bedroom. Essentially, I aspire to be happy.

Which is what the ladies I met in the department store were.

Unfortunately for me, I know that even if I get the Cath Kidston bedding, I keep the friends I have, I continue to love and be loved that I still won't be happy unless I am doing this. Writing.

Yet, when trying to be a writer writing is something you rarely get to do. Captions, nibs, headings, 40 word reviews... these are the bones I am given in between filing, answering the phone, making tea, fetching things from the shop...

And then I return home, exhausted. And I know the next writing task I have is to write cover letter after cover letter and by the time that's done this little blog remains sad and untouched. And I feel guilty. And unfulfilled.

It sounds like a moan. And I guess it is. But at the same time this whole process of finding your dreams is exhilirating. I enjoy making the tea! I enjoy putting the files in their special folder! I enjoy carting post up and down stairs! Because I look around and see the buzzing magazine office and I know that this is where I belong.

A little thing I try and remember each time I feel down about myself is how I felt when I first received the email from wahanda. How excited I was! How I knew that this was the beginning of something phenomenal.

And it is... it still is...

My Dad has started to write in his blog everyday, just something small, something he has thought about. He doesn't try to make it perfect, he just tries to make it represent who he is. I might try that. And if I don't, I expect an allmighty telling off from my followers.

All five of you.