Analysis (Services and Self)

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

Saturday, December 04, 2004

"When was the last time you did something for the first time?"

That was the theme of a series of television advertisements I saw a few months ago; I believe they were for the Emirates airline. In the one I particularly remember, I interpreted the story as being about two African men, on a business trip to some European city in winter, in their hotel room. They look out of the window and see that snow is falling heavily. Depending on your perspective, that might signal a trip to the slopes for some skiing or snowboarding, or a sense of dread at the thought of a long and difficult commute home. But if you've never seen snow before... the two men run to the hotel lobby, walk embarassedly past the reception desk, and then run outside and savour the simple joy of feeling snowflakes fall on their faces for the first time; and the child-like pleasure of throwing snowballs at each other. Such a simple thing, yet (for me) such a profound image.

A few weeks after I first saw that advert, I was talking with a friend on the telephone. David was excitedly telling me about the upcoming family holiday to Florida, and all that he was planning. One of the activities that he was most excited about was the prospect of hiring a Harley Davidson motorcycle and riding with the elder of his two young sons down to Cape Canaveral, for a memorable piece of father-and-son bonding. As we spoke, he referred to that same advertisement; this would be a time when he and Niall were doing something, together, for the first time.

As a Buddhist, I believe wholeheartedly in living "in the moment"; for now is all we have. The past is gone (except as a memory) and the future not yet here; what I have is a succession of "now's" and if I do not savour each of those while I have them, then I am the loser. So I try to remember the joy of doing something for the first time; recalling those moments from the past, and consciously looking for new opportunities to experience that feeling. Yesterday was one of those days, and one I hope that I shall long remember; for I took the opportunity to actively seek a new experience, which I found deeply rewarding (and enjoyable!)... and quite unexpectedly experienced something else that was so profound I'm still welling up with tears as I recall it.

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to be a participant in an upcoming television documentary series examining a wide spectrum of experiences of people contemplating or undergoing social transition and gender reassignment surgery, as well as those who completed that journey in the past. For myself, I don't feel that I have anything particularly remarkable to say; but if someone else holds a different opinion, that is their right. Even as recently as a few months ago, I would not have considered doing something so public; for all that I am a confident, outgoing person, I'm also a very private person, who doesn't readily open up to others about my inner feelings. Which is probably the residual effect of keeping the reality of what I was hidden inside for so many years, beneath an outward veneer of masculinity. Recently, I realised that one of the reasons my own journey has been so painful and so long is that I had only the stereotypical images of what being "a transsexual" meant, as portrayed by the newspaper stories I had read in the past, and the sensationalist and salacious television and film portrayals I recall. The recurrent themes of rejection by family and friends, discrimination in the workplace, and the constant threat and all-too-often reality of physical violence, even fatal violence, did not exactly fill me with a sense of optimism about what lay ahead. I'm an ordinary person, trying to live an ordinary life, with (I like to think) some degree of success; if I had seen even just one or two portrayals of transgendered people in *that* light ten years ago, even five years ago, my journey to here could have been so much less traumatic.

Realising that, I feel an obligation to at least try to portray the positive aspects of my own experience, which far outweigh the negative, while acknowledging those negatives. Which is partly why I started writing this blog; and why I volunteered for the documentary series (and I do mean "volunteer"; no-one has coerced me into taking part, nor am I being paid for taking part). Indeed, there's no guarantee that I'll even appear in any of the eventual programmes.

Back to yesterday. Two of the crew (one of the directors and a researcher) came down to interview me at my home. They were here for nearly six hours in total (I certainly didn't envy them their drive home afterwards; I doubt if they'd had the good sense to stock up on some back episodes of Daily Source Code or Acts of Volition Radio for the journey, for example!) It is important to me that a subject like this be treated with sensitivity and respect (as well as honesty and reality) by a documentary, and I was reassured by the demeanour and attitudes of David and Willow. I was also glad that my partner Kim was there when they arrived, partly because she is a very astute judge of character, and partly because it would be difficult to talk fully about my experiences without being able to talk fully about her role; if she had felt uncomfortable, I would not have proceeded. As it was, we both warmed to them instantly, and I like to think we all had a lot of laughs as we tucked into sandwiches before they brought a veritable mountain of lights, cameras and sound recording gear into the flat. (I smiled at the thought that the other tenants where I live might have thought we were shooting a porn film!) Anyhoo.. I was fascinated by the whole process (I always have been fascinated by the mechanics of film and video production and editing) and the filming process was not at all scary or intimidating. I talked, as I have on many previous occasions, about what had happened and is happening in my life, and something about my hopes and aspirations for the future. If the final results are screened, you can watch them there; and if they don't get screened, well, I'll interpret that as an editorial decision that my ramblings were so much guff and wind, and therefore I'll save you the tedium of regurgitating them here! ;-)

So I took part in something I never had before, and I felt really pleased that I had put myself in the position of being able to do that. A perfect day, in fact. As they dismantled their gear and I started putting my own belongings back into the disorder they had originally been in, we discussed other shots that might be used at a later date; especially of me riding my (t)rusty Cruella. We loaded up their van, and I said goodbye to them in the entrance hall to the house where I rent a flat.

Now here's the thing; I don't want to embarrass David by what I write here. I don't actually think there's anything he should be embarrassed *about*. As we said goodbye, I shook his hand; and he leaned over and kissed my cheek in goodbye. Willow gave me a big hug, and off they went. Nothing particularly note-worthy... except to me. All David had done was said goodbye to me, as he would say goodbye to any woman.

He had treated me like a woman.

If you strip away all of the mechanics of the process of gender reassignment; the legislative and administrative hassles, the pain, inconvenience and risk of the surgical procedures, the fear and reality of discrimination and violence... I cannot speak for anyone else, but I can say that all I seek from the path that I am on is the chance to live my life as the woman I am. I don't care if anyone knows that I was born with male genitalia (which is why I'm not frightened to write quite openly, using my real name, about my experiences); that is an irrelevance, a temporary inconvenience, and will at some point become no more than a memory (and one I won't linger on). What I *will* remember... and for a long time... is how I felt when I realised that I had been treated like a woman by someone I had never met before.

Had I not volunteered for this documentary, I would not have felt that feeling yesterday. Whatever might happen if or when my contribution to the documentary series is aired, I have already been repaid many times over for my efforts.

I've been asked on more than one occasion, "what do you mean by 'living in the moment'?" Recognising the significance, to me, of what was probably an unconscious polite gesture; *that's* living in the moment.

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  • At 6:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Reading this brought a tear to my eye too! That gesture from a complete stranger should tell you what a beautiful and very special lady you are. I am so happy for you and hope that this is one of many happy and fulfilling experiences you have in the future.
    Jinty xx


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