Analysis (Services and Self)

Koan Bremner's view on life as a database and data warehouse professional / addict and non-genetic woman

Saturday, November 06, 2004

11/9 remembered (well, I *am* British, and I don't recall too much of significance about 9 November 2001)

So, this week, George W. Bush was re-elected. No, I'm not going to comment one way or the other on that subject (if you want in-depth political discourse, this isn't the place). Which is not to say that I don't hold political views, because I most certainly do; it's just that they're *my* views, and (unless asked to talk about them) I don't see that they're of any interest or relevance to anyone else, so I try to keep them to myself. That said... one of the most pivotal moments in W's first term were the events of 11 September 2001 (and the consequences thereof). Rather than speak of those issues, I'm going to write what happened to me on that day, and how the events that followed indirectly shaped my life now, although I really didn't recognise the significance of those events until very recently.

That day dawned like any other. I was flying up to Glasgow to stay with my great friends David and Janet and their two young sons for a few days. The motivation for the visit was that I was teaching a course in the centre of Glasgow on the Thursday and Friday that week (2071, for those current and ex-MCTs who are reading!) and it provided an ideal opportunity to combine business and pleasure to stay with them for a few days, rather than board in some nameless hotel. I was booked on a late-morning flight from London Stansted to Glasgow Prestwick (at the time, I was living in Cambridge, and Stansted is only a short rail journey from there, while Prestwick is a short drive from David and Janet's home). Arriving at the airport, I found that my flight had been cancelled; I was rebooked on one leaving that evening at around 6pm, and put on standby for one at around 1pm. No great problem; inconvenient, but I called Janet, told her the situation, and said that I would call again as soon as I knew for sure which flight I would be arriving on (she was going to collect me from the airport).

I made it on the standby flight, so I took off from Stansted on a day which seemed unremarkable; and landed at Prestwick about an hour later... to pictures on the TV screens in the arrivals hall which I could scarcely comprehend. Without the sound, the smoking ruins of one of the two towers and a raging fire in the one that remained standing was an image too surreal to comprehend. An immediate concern, though, was that my luggage failed to materialise, which was an experience shared with everyone else who'd taken the flight on standby (evidently the luggage handling at Stansted hadn't joined all the dots). Ordinarily, I wouldn't have been too stressed about things (lost luggage happens) but today of all days, I had a feeling that luggage which wasn't exactly where it should be was in danger of being summarily destroyed because of the potential terrorist threat it might represent.

After a period of whingeing at the ground services staff at Prestwick, I saw that Janet had arrived, and we left the airport, myself in possession of my carry-on bag containing my laptop and other stuff I would not dream of checking in, and bearing a promise that my luggage would be returned "at some point". (As it happens, my suitcase arrived, in a taxi, later that evening, so "respect!" to the collective efforts of RyanAir, ServisAir and the staff of both airports on what was already a challenging day). Not surprisingly, I spent most of the remainder of that day and the bulk of the next glued to CNN, BBC News 24 and the like as events continued to unfold.

(By way of a short interlude...) Something that I've been repeatedly told is that I'm a "brave" or "courageous" person for taking the path of gender reassignment that I'm taking (with all of the pain, difficulties and prejudice that comes as part of the package) and for being quite open about it. I absolutely and categorically reject any such assertion, whenever it's made; and here's why. To me, a person is brave, courageous or the like when they undertake a course of action, at great risk to themselves, when they could as easily choose not to, knowing that they could choose not to; but do so anyway. That's not my situation; I'm doing what I'm doing because I *don't* have a choice (at least, the only choice is between doing this and having the chance of a happy life or not doing it and having the absolute certainty of death by my own hand, so I hardly think that counts as a "choice"). Without the element of choice, how can someone be called brave? I don't believe they can. Bravery and courage was playing out on that TV screen; the fire crews, police and bystanders who went into the second tower, knowing full well that if it collapsed as the first one had already done, they weren't coming out; that's bravery, courage and a nobility of spirit and selflessness that I can hardly comprehend, let alone hope to emulate. So, please, don't ever annoy me or insult them by calling me "brave" or "courageous". Among the most poignant reminders I keep of that day are this, this and this, from the "User Friendly" online cartoon.

Anyway... I taught the course in Glasgow, while keeping up with events elsewhere. One item of news which alarmed me was the discovery that RyanAir, in common with many other carriers, was not allowing *any* carry-on luggage on their flights as a result of recent events. Well, I could understand the thinking behind that, but I was adamant I was not going to check my laptop on the return flight; sorry, but I couldn't afford to replace it if my luggage went missing again. So, instead of taking the return flight, I arranged to travel back by train, on the Saturday. (I had nothing booked for the following week; besides, it meant I could enjoy another night of Glaswegian hospitality.)

Early Saturday afternoon, I boarded the train in Glasgow. It took the cross-country route to Edinbugh, and then formed a fast service to London, stopping at major cities (and Stevenage, of all places) on the way. From Glasgow, I had a table of four seats to myself, so I turned on my MP3 player and sat back to enjoy the journey. I recall tucking into some delicious filled rolls and cakes prepared for me by David before we left his home; my "pieces", as I was informed they are known in local dialect. ;-)

I didn't really pay much attention when three women got onto the train at Edinburgh and took their seats at the table where I was dozing. They chatted away to each other, I let whatever music was on my MP3 player pass the time (I don't recall exactly what was there, but it's a racing certainty that Tool were in the mix). The journey continued; and at Newcastle, a horde of Newcastle United football fans got in; there wasn't even standing room, for a while. They were in, er, "festive" mood, for their team had just beaten Manchester United 4 - 3 (which, let's face it, would put *any* football fan in a festive mood, not just fans of the victorious team!) At some point, my playlist must have finished, because in response to some particularly funny comment from one of the fans, I burst out laughing. He looked around and asked "how did you hear that, over your music?" (I still had my headphones on). I replied that the volume was low; he laughed, I laughed, and on the train rattled.

At this point, one of the women at the table asked me if I'd like a smoked salmon sandwich which was part of the lunch they'd brought onto the train. Well, having polished off my pieces quite awhile since, I gratefully said "yes", and tucked in. It seemed appropriate to join them in conversation, so I did. (As a rule, particularly back then, I'm not the kind of person who engages strangers in idle conversation to pass the time.) They also offered me a glass of wine, but I declined (I'd given up alcohol quite a while before, primarily because I couldn't see the point of trying to deal with Depression on one hand with some pretty powerful anti-depressants, while on the other slurping down a powerful central nervous system depressant; I still don't, and even though I no longer take anti-depressants, I still don't drink alcohol). I gave my standard explanation of not drinking because I was already "high on life" (which was a bit of a joke, back then; I was anything *but* high on life) but it got a laugh, so we chatted on.

As the train approached Stevenage (where I was going to get out and catch a local train back to Cambridge) I took my leave of my companions, collected up my bags, and made for the door. As I waited for the train to pull in, one of the women (I'll refer to her as 'G', even though that's not her initial) came up to me and asked if she could have my email address; in case she "wanted to write". I didn't have a problem with that, so I gave her one of my business cards, said goodbye a second time, and got off the train.

I didn't think much about that journey the next day; I had domestic stuff (shopping, laundry and the like) to take care of. That evening, though, I received an email from G; she'd enjoyed our conversation on the train (as had I) and hoped we could continue to converse by email. I had no problem with that, so we pinged a few emails backwards and forwards over the next couple of days. G lived and worked in London; asked if I ever had occasion to visit London (which I did); and asked if I'd like to meet up for a meal sometime? As it happened, I intended to be in London the next Saturday, so we arranged to meet at the restaurant atop the Tate Modern gallery (a place I'd not been since it opened, but had wanted to).

We met; we had (I think) a great evening. After the meal, as it was a pleasant evening, we decided to walk from the South Bank up to Notting Hill Gate, near her home, and convenient for a tube station to connect me with a train back to Cambridge. It's quite a walk; but again, we had a great time. On some level, I suspect we were connecting. We parted at the tube station, and I'd already told her that I was due to be in Leeds for three days the next week, probably without easy access to an email connection, and we went our ways.

Now, I had a problem. What was happening here? I've already explained elsewhere in this blog about what I am, and what I'm now doing about it; back then, I was still trying to deal with Gender Dysphoria without going down the path of social or surgical transition. Certainly, I took great care not to give away on the outside what I struggled with inside, and I don't think anyone who knew me back then ever guessed, right up to the point when I (or someone else) told them. As a woman (on the inside) what was I doing becoming attracted to a woman? Indeed, how could I have been married for more than ten years (which I had been, although I was by then divorced) with this going on inside? More to the point, why hadn't I realised what I was until I was nealy thirty?

I think the key to all this is that I had been labouring under a misconception that is probably shared by many, if not most; that a person's gender identity defines their sexual preference. Actually, I suspect that many (or most) assume that a person's physical sex ought to define their gender identity, and that their sexual preference also follows automatically; i.e. if you're physically male, identify as a male, and sexually prefer females, you're "normal" (and, by implication, if you're physically female, identify as female, and sexually prefer males); anything else, and you're at best "different", or (depending on your opinions, prejudices, upbringing, religious beliefs etc.) "deviant". Believe as you will; the fact of the matter is that I was physically male and had always sexually preferred females; I have never had the slightest stirrings towards men. If I had, I wouldn't be the least ashamed to say so, or accept it, but I didn't. And since I'd assumed that a male-to-female transgendered person would automatically sexually prefer males, that's why it wasn't until quite late in my life that I made the connection. In my current opinion, physical sexuality, gender identity and sexual preference are not either / or absolutes; nor are they always strictly aligned (male-male-female, or female-female-male). Once I'd grasped that, then the realisation that I could be male-female-female made sense. And that's where I was in 2001; I *knew* my gender identity was female, I *knew* my sexual preference was female; but I'd concluded that I wouldn't be able to survive the process which might complete the picture as female-female-female. (Patently, I've now changed my mind about the last part!)

All that said, my issue was this; even if I could find a way to live to a ripe old age as male-female-female, was it fair to another person to enter a personal relationship with them while keeping that dimension hidden from them? I had already seen the pain and sadness that ensued (on both sides) when a marriage that began under one set of assumptions (that I was male-male-female) ended under a different reality (that I was male-female-female). Did I have the right to subject yet another person to that? I didn't think so. Did I have the "courage" (that word again) to reveal all this to another person, specifically, G? No, I didn't have that "courage". (A year or so later, I *would* find that "courage"; but that was in an as-yet-unsuspected future).

No, while I was in Leeds I thought long and hard about what was happening, and resolved that I had no right to put another person's emotions through the wringer in such a way. If I couldn't be upfront with someone about who and what I was, I had no right to begin a relationship with them; and since I could not imagine being able to be upfront in that way with someone, I was effectively denying myself the possibility of any further close personal relationships. I thought I would be able to live like that; I was to find out, later, that I was (not for the first time) in error.

So, I wrote an email to G in which I tried to let her down as gently as I could, taking all of the blame onto myself. I hope she believed that it was not her fault (it wasn't). She replied, once, saying she understood that I was not in a position to develop our friendship further, and we never wrote, spoke or met thereafter.

So what on Earth has all this got to do with George W. Bush winning "four more years"? :-) To me, the chain of events and consequences is now clear:

* If the attacks had not taken place, I would have taken the scheduled flight back to Stansted on the Friday, i.e. I would not have been on that train, in that seat, on that day;

* If I had not been on that train, in that seat, on that day, I would not have met G;

* If I had not met G, who is to say if (or when) I would have had to face the dilemma I have written about here, with the consequences which flowed therefrom;

* If I had not had to face those later consequences (which I may write about on another day, in another post) my life after January 2002 would undoubtedly have taken a *very* different path; and not, I suspect, a long one.

Apologies for yet another long post!

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1 Comments:

  • At 1:17 pm, Blogger James Snape said…

    Koan,

    Another thought provoking post. Also interesting because privately I often play the "what if" game as I find it quite amusing to trace behavioural aspects back to life experiences. Some I can even trace back to a single event.

    James.

     

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