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YOU. SHALL. NOT. PASS.Up until I was 21, my experiences with presenting as the gender I felt inside were entirely contained within the four walls of my parents’ house. And only when I was the sole occupant.

In the safety of that isolated space, I learned a lot about what would work and what would not, so by the time I began to venture outside, I already had some (albeit untested) idea of how to pass.

My early experiences of going out presenting female, rare and fleeting though they were, taught me a great deal more about what goes into the ability to “pass”.

In short: a hell of a lot.

Passing, for the uninitiated, is what we trans people call being able to look enough like the gender we feel inside to be generally treated as a person of that gender. Some people call the ability to do this “passing privilege”. Some trans people have complete passing privilege and the folk out there who believe they can “tell” a transgender person from a cisgender person only believe this because there are also many trans people who’s bodies simply do not afford them the ability to pass.

I know I’m very lucky with my body in that I’m quite short (for a male…I’m average height for a female), I’ve never been stocky, nor muscular and I’ve never had a great deal of body hair. Some might say I’ve always been quite feminine for someone born with a male body. Even so, there are any number of things which prevent me from passing which is why, like most trans people I’ve spoken to or read about, my initial attempts to pass were quite ridiculous.

If we look back at photos of ourselves when we were teenagers, most of us feel at least some sense of embarrassment. The teen years are when most of us are feeling our way through society’s expectations of us – how to dress, how to behave, what to say, how to style our hair, how much makeup to apply (if any). As we learn, we hone our skills at being able to know what’s acceptable, what’s not and we gradually establish how we ourselves want to present ourselves to the world.

Imagine having to go through all that for a second time. This is what trans people face when they begin their transition. For most of us, the early stages are embarrassing all over again, only this time – for many of us – we’re grown adults feeling our way through society’s expectations. The disdain we receive from the world around us is that much more severe.

Again, despite the consequences of suppressing my gender identity for so long, I know that in many ways I’m quite lucky in the way I’ve undergone my transition. Unlike some trans people who find that they have to go full-time  very quickly for the sake of their mental health, I was able to gradually explore my gender identity, essentially revealing myself and learning about myself bit-by-bit such that by the time I began to present full-time, I’d spent close to 20 years essentially in training.

Having supportive people around me and never really giving much of a fuck what society expects has helped a great deal. Embarrassment is one emotion I simply don’t engage with.

That said, there is a big difference between not caring what society expects and being willing to deal with non-stop negativity.

Which brings us to my ongoing challenge of trying to pass.

ridiculousness

*FACEPALM*

I can only speak from the perspective of a trans woman trying to pass as a female and, though I know the trials of being a trans man are equally significant, I will focus on what I have experienced and try not speculate on the experiences of others.

When I finally found the courage to go out and buy my first womens’ clothing (at 21 years of age), much to CC’s dismay (because she is WONDERFUL and was helping me buy them), I gravitated toward the shortest of skirts, the tightest of tops, fishnet stockings, lingerie and heavy makeup. It horrified her because, as she put it later: if I was trying to appear like a woman, then this overt sexuality must be how I viewed women!

But that was not the case at all. The reason I gravitated toward all of that (generally risqué) stuff was because it was what I felt was the MOST feminine and the LEAST masculine of clothing. In those early stages, I was trying to retreat from the gender I didn’t identify with – that I’d been forced to live in and conform to since birth – and do it as fast as I could. I’ve spoken to a lot of trans women and people who work with trans women and this story is certainly not unusual for the initial stages of transition.

As a result of not only the risque clothing and makeup, but also the fact that I’d spend 21 years trying very hard to “be a man”, when I first started to presented as female, the comments came thick and fast from everywhere – from those who care about me and also those who very much did don’t. For me, of course, they were all to do with appearing too masculine.

“You walk like a man”

“Your jaw is too square”

“Your voice is all wrong”

“You look like Krusty the Clown”

“Your arms are too muscly”

“You stumble too much in heels”krusty_3

“Your mannerisms aren’t right”

“Your makeup makes you look like a clown”

“No women actually do that”

“You look like a man in a dress”

“You need to sit straighter”

“You have no hips”

“It looks like you’re wearing clown shoes”

“Your chest is too big – you need bigger boobs”

“You have man hands”

“I can see exactly where your undercarriage is”

There are a lot more, these are just the ones which stuck with me. And almost every single one has affected the way I present myself in some way or other.

Did you note the clown theme? Yeah, there’s a reason trans women are so often the comedy relief in mainstream entertainment and a lot of it is to do with trans women in their early stages of transition trying DESPERATELY to embody this sense of self they have inside. OK, yes to be fair drag queens also bear some of the responsibility and I have seen many HILARIOUS drag queens. But still, laughing at the way a person looks when they’re so vulnerable and inexperienced in the Me & Parisworld they’re stepping into really isn’t that funny is it?

If you look at all of the criticisms above you can see that this is EXACTLY the same stream of criticism young girls face as they grow up and develop into women. Of COURSE I know that this isn’t right and that society’s view of women is idiotic. I respect every single woman who has endured this bullshit and yet still grown into a functional person, but my brain-body alignment is idiotic too and I just wanted to look the way I felt.

Did I feel like an impossible Barbie doll shape inside?

No.

Would I have traded my body for ANY female body?

Yep.

No person has “the perfect body” because there’s no such thing. Everyone has flaws and I know this, but when you’re trans and every criticism feels like it’s shoving you back in that place you started, the place you’re trying to escape, the place where you’re “a man in a dress”, the need to conform to this idiotic set of standards can sometimes take over.

It’s a discussion CC and I have had many, many times – do we really want our daughter to grow up looking up to someone who tries to conform to all of these idiotic standards?

Well…of course not.

As I type this I’m sitting here in my jeans, mary janes, t-shirt dress and a Richmond Football Club hoodie (because of course), but I am wearing my wig. I have a teensy bit of eyeliner (no wings today) & a natural lipstick on. And though I’m not presently speaking, if I did, I know I’d be affecting as realistically feminine a voice as I could (which is to say not feminine at all).

…Freak…Man in a dress…

As I type this, I know I want to show our daughter and our sons a world free of the expectation girls and women have to either refuse to conform to or go mad trying to meet, but I wonder if I can be brave enough to refuse to conform to them myself.

— IEK

editing_the_monolithSo as I work my way through Bifrost’s (almost) 3rd Draft, I’m finding it incresingly frustrating to have the version I’m working on be a hard copy.

Yes – I do love the look of my pink, purple and blue sparkly editing pens, but the fact that I’m sitting here on a bus, unable to edit because the 550-odd-A4-page monolith that is Bifrost* is too unwieldy to carry around is starting to become quite upsetting.

It became so upsetting recently that I decided “Fuck it, I’m gonna edit the soft copy from which I printed the monolith”. So I did.

Then I tried to print and integrate the edited portions back into the hard copy.

Oh.

Fuck.

Now the pages are all messed up.

So editing the soft copy is out. I get it. Thanks again, Captain Hindsight.

But what do I do? Sure, I’ve been getting A LOT more work done on my blog (perhaps you’ve noticed?) because the times I spent actually WRITING Bifrost were mostly spent in bars, on busses, in bars, on planes, in airports and in bars at airports.

I’ve been hesitant to take out smaller portions of my manuscript in order to edit them on the run because I worry that I’ll damage the pages so much I can no longer read them (I have form with the utilities bills I pay when on the bus) and also that I’ll lose bits or not successfully integrate the smaller portions back into the monolith.

But I think I have to get past this.

I think what I’m going to do is take out whole chapters. Perhaps two per bus day. So…maybe one chapter per hour of travel time. And if I have a suitcase (like I do when I fly), I’ll take the whole monolith, then re-integrate at the hotel or wherever I’m staying once I arrive.

This should allow my defective mathematical brain to be able to re-integrate the parts more easily because they’re whole chapters and I’ll just have to be more careful with the chapters than I am with our utilities bills (I think at a basic level I just don’t like utilities bills).

Hopefully this will allow me to get more work done on editing Bifrost and wishfully, I’ll still be able to get as much work done on this blog!

— IEK

 

 

*Yes, I know it’s 2 books. In fact I’m kind of vibed that it’s 2 books.

out_move_onWhen I was a young teenager (as in around 27 years ago), I was sitting watching the ABC (that’s the Australian public broadcaster ABC) and a news report came on about transgender people and the gay community. I was immediately intrigued because, known only to me, I REALLY identified with these “transsexual” people. I remember one of the gay activists being interviewed saying he had the utmost respect for trans people, calling them the “suffragettes of the queer community” because most trans people couldn’t go stealth (ie. blend in with the rest of society & conceal any queerness to avoid negativity). It’s a phrase which has stuck with me ever since.

If you’re trans or you know a trans person, no doubt you know all about the mistreatment trans people are prone to receiving. Sometimes it’s from complete strangers, sometimes their co-workers, their customers, sometimes their employers, even their family and friends. Literally as I started writing this post, I read a news story about a trans woman not being offered any more work as a casual teacher after she began presenting female. As with much of the discrimination against trans people, the argument put forward by this teacher’s superiors was “a lot of people have understandable misgivings”.

I’ve heard this argument before. Not from an employer trying to justify no longer offering me employment (which would have been an awful experience), but from a family member genuinely trying to be helpful. She suggested that I should somehow come out to people slowly & cautiously, allowing them time to process this change in the way I present my gender identity.no_fucks

On one hand I understand this, I mean I have spent decades of my life burying my gender identity within myself (see My Transcape #1) and only slowly, cautiously – GLACIALLY – coming out, both to myself and others. I know this approach is easier to digest for people than a sudden, full-time change, but we also have to weigh up how living and presenting in a way we ourselves don’t even recognise is affecting us. For me, to a certain extent I can take it – I’ve been presenting androgynous for years (even before that my style was called “eccentric”), so the idea of being referred to using either male pronouns or female pronouns doesn’t really bother me (though I do feel better hearing she/her). But I’m not everyone. I know others may not deal with being misgendered nearly as well, and so I equally understand the other point of view which is: who gives a fuck what other people think about what I’M doing with MY gender identity? This is me. Deal with it.

Though it’s a concise argument and one I’m rather fond of, the counter is strong and terrible. Quite aside from the parents who disown their trans children, brothers and sisters who stop speaking to their trans siblings, children who disown their trans parents, the friends who cut all ties with trans people the moment they come out and (as above) the employers who terminate the employment of trans employees, there are some vile people who don’t give you the option of caring or not caring about their opinion because they’re too busy abusing you, hitting you, kicking you, stabbing you, shooting you or legislating against you to pay any attention to what you care about. Though the hostility toward trans people is reducing as the general public become more educated about transgender issues, depending on where you live, there could still be anything from none of these people to hundreds of them and online the more vile people seem to bunch together.

It’s into this hostile environment which all trans people cast themselves when they come out (or as many trans people might put it: go full-time).

So why the hell would anyone transition?

Why indeed?

Well I did (and am). Gradually, over 20+ years, but I did (and am).

If you’ve read Transcape #1, you’ll know that I started out trying to “release” my gender identity by cross-dressing very early in my life, but by the time I’d gathered enough courage to reveal to anyone that even I cross-dressed, I was already 21. And I only told one person then because we had started a serious relationship and I didn’t want any secrets.

At the time I had established, from extensive reading of incorrect studies and opinions, that I was “just a cross-dresser”. The crux of the argument made by most of these fine resources was that if I did not want to immediately remove my male bits in order to escape depression and/or suicide, then I was not trans.

“Oh,” thought I. “Well, that’s a relief then. All of this fantasy about actually being female and presenting female must be just caught up in this cross-dressing thing. Great! Guess I’ll never have to face all of that anti-trans hostility then!”

And that was that. Right?

Spoiler alert: So much of no.

At 21, I was so fortunate to have met and fallen for someone who really didn’t seem to care about my dark cross-dressing secret. She was actually quite amused by the whole thing. Some of you may have heard of her – online I refer to her as Co-Consul or CC (yes – the very same, the very first person I confided in).

i_want_to_be_freeAfter this initial (and honestly TERRIFYING) confession and the resultant…well…ambivalence, I gradually came out to more
and more people because the idea of being able to more regularly present myself the way I WANTED TO made me so happy. My idea was that I wanted to make my “closet” as large as possible. Having been a pretty selective person when it came to friendships (bigot: nope, don’t want to talk to you; arsehole: nope, not you either), most of my friends were either encouraging, amused or ambivalent. Considering the expectation I’d had, it was a generally positive experience for me.

During this time of self-expression, I ended up kind of being forced to also come out to my parents and siblings (something I would not have chosen to do).

I’d been out with friends, you see, drinking heavily (as we did) and I arrived home, very drunk, to a sleeping house and decided to spend some time on the computer dressed the way I had originally wanted to go out (but hadn’t because terrified). Anyway, the hangover I awoke with made breathing & moving feel like an extreme sport. I was in the bath robe I’d hastily thrown on after getting out of bed and
I was carrying a coffee from the kitchen, intending to sit down & stare at it while I worked up the courage to ingest anything. My older brother breezed into the room andspotted the bra I was apparently still wearing under my robe. Being a shy, retiring type, my brother snort-laughed and immediately demanded to know what this was all about. My hangover-soaked reaction of “I…I just can’t deal with this right now” was clearly not going to be a long-term solution.

So later that day, after much coffee, vitamin B pills and bacon, I explained to my siblings and my parents that I was “just a cross-dresser” (because the internet told me so). Though it was daunting, I had made so much ground in coming out to my friends that I did not want to let the fear control my life anymore. You know, because fuck it.

My parents reacted pretty much as well as I could have hoped for: they didn’t get it, they didn’t like it, but equally they didn’t kick me out on the street.

So I was pretty much completely out as a cross-dresser. My concept of having the world’s largest closet seemed to be working rather well.

Then I entered the workforce full-time and from that point, the course of my gender expression became substantially influenced by the culture of my employers.

My first full-time role was working the night shift for an ISP which just happened to have a night-shift demographic of about 50% gay or lesbian to 50% straight. It was the most open, hilarious, welcoming environment you could imagine and so I started wearing skirts, dresses and heels to work because nobody gave a shit. It was awesome. I did pretty well in that company, but found my IT skills were in high demand in the marketplace, so I moved to an insurance company closer to home for more money (win/win). Though it was certainly hilarious and welcoming, the insurance company was not nearly as open and it quickly became clear that my gender identity would have to remain in the wardrobe with all my dresses, skirts and heels.Closet

Over the next several years, I kept my female attire and my gender identity locked away, unleashing it for costume parties only, until a few weeks after I had decided to become full-time carer for CC & my newborn and had handed in my resignation to the insurance company. There was a formal event where I attended presenting the gender I felt. Once again, because of extensive ground-work laid years before, it was a great night and there was next-to no negativity. But once it was over, I went back to presenting male.

For the next 3+ years I was a full-time carer for our children and (foolishly) decided to re-train as a teacher. I knew if I wanted to be employed and survive my first years as a teacher, my gender identity needed to be further concealed, so I hid myself away even deeper, going so far as to delete forum posts, change online usernames, I shut down my website and removed any online content which hinted at being anything other than a cis male and could realistically be linked back to me. Judging by the experience of the trans teacher from the news story I linked above – this was a smart move.

Well…It WOULD have been a smart move if only I’d been able to find any work as a teacher.

In the end even as a cis male I couldn’t find teaching work any closer than 2 hours drive from my home (with 3 very young kids, a 4-hour daily commute was not an option), so in the name of being able to eat and feed our kids, I gave up & went back to the IT industry.

failureThis was a pretty dark time for me. We had just had our 3rd child, I had become seriously stressed after 3.5 years as a full-time carer (not realising that part of it was the fact that I’d been suppressing my gender identity almost completely), my “dream career” as a teacher was dead in the water and I was having to take ANY entry-level IT job  just to bring in some money. Every IT recruiter I spoke to had the misconception that 3.5 years out of the IT industry meant I had been left behind (“Oh – that’s like an eternity in IT. Everything’s changed now”).

I truly felt like I’d failed in almost every aspect of my life.

As it turned out, the first “entry-level” job I landed was hugely challenging and rewarding. Within 12 months, I had been promoted and I was training the people who were coming in to do the work I had just been doing (teaching degree came in handy for something at least)…(also – take THAT, recruiters! Turns out the basics don’t change & even the advanced stuff doesn’t change much in 3.5 years). Despite all this renewed success, for whatever reason, I still wasn’t happy. In fact I seemed to be getting angrier and angrier – particularly with my kids. I’ll never forget one night, I completely lost control of myself and was yelling, red-faced at my two youngest – who were terrified – and all because they were playing silly buggers instead of getting ready for bed. It was ludicrous.

There were several times when I was alone, I broke down and cried because I didn’t think I could handle it anymore. They were probably the only times I’d cried in ten years. I thought of leaving, just up and going – take my anger away from the kids. But I could never do that to my beautiful family. I could never leave them. Somehow I just had to do better.

Some weeks later, alone in the darkness of CC and my bedroom, I decided I would try being who I felt I was inside and see if that helped with my anger.

Why did I decide to start to transition? Because I began to find burying myself unbearable. Because continuing to bury who I was no longer hurting just me.

Over the next year I did calm down. I booked in to see a counsellor because I felt I needed help working through everything and though I ended up having only around ten sessions with the counsellor, I think it did help. In the months following my resolution in the dark, I gradually presented more and more female. I took to wearing a hat all the time to cover my male pattern baldness, but otherwise I wore whatever I felt like on the day. I eventually bought some wigs to wear instead of hats (because what? It’s just LIKE a hat!). I’m not perfect, I still get angry with the kids, but haven’t lost it like that night again and I have a LOT more patience than I had before.

Over the past six months (yes, only six months!) I’ve transitioned fully at work. My swipe card has my preferred name, my email address has my happypreferred name and I am COMPLETELY accepted as female at work. I cannot speak highly enough about my current employer. Becuase I’m still a bit privacy-oriented, I will not (at this moment) reveal which company it is. Rest assured I promote them very well in my professional life as an inclusive employer of choice for pretty much anyone (because they are).

I told my parents what was happening with me and initially it seemed as though they were confused, disappointed, but accepting. But recently it’s become clear that “accepting” is not a word I could use to describe their attitude toward my gender transition.

These days, I present as myself doing drop-off and pick-up for the kids, at the shops – you name it. I am very fortunate (or perhaps geographically selective…or both) to live in an extremely open, friendly area and I have (thus far) had nothing but support, curiosity (which is COMPLETELY FINE FOLKS!) and concern (which is usually also fine). I have actually only really explained what’s going on to a few folks, the rest I’ve just let work it out as I show up at school or pre-school presenting as myself. For most people it’s not been so much of a surprise and as an explanation to my historical style choices.

I’m still not truly full-time. Or perhaps I just don’t feel like I’m full-time. Perhaps after decades of slow progress, I don’t even know what “full-time” means anymore. I also don’t know what my own endpoint is. At this stage I’m happy working toward a goal of being accepted presenting the end of the gender spectrum I feel. Perhaps at the moment, that’s my goal and perhaps, as with many things in life, there really isn’t an endpoint, just an ever-changing experience.

Whichever way, coming out to people in any capacity has usually scared me, but since I finally allowed myself to accept it, I haven’t let fear hold me back. The challenge involved in coming out is not related to the act of telling people I’m trans – I totally prefer that people know I’m trans! Rather the challenge for me is holding myself back, ensuring I move slowly – glacially – enough to continue facing my biggest challenge of all.

…but I’ll leave that for another day.

— IEK

bbq_eye
So for the uninitiated – I’m transgender. I was born with a male body, but I have always identified more with the female end of the gender spectrum. I identify these days as transgender female (as opposed to cis male or female). I present female and I like to be treated as a female (she/her), but I don’t seek to claim that “I am a woman”. There is so much about growing up female and being a woman that I can never truly know, nor know how it feels. After all these years, I don’t want to be a cis woman, I don’t long for it (anymore) – I just want to be who I am. Of course from a gender perspective, who I am is a complex equation. In fact my own gender identity is something I hope to explore further as part of this series of posts.

Just as there is so much about being a woman I could never truly understand, so too there is a lot about growing up trans, fighting it with everything you have until finally you just accept it and start to transition that no cisgendered person could truly understand. In this series, I’m going to try to put down in words my own experience so that hopefully it can help people of all types better understand the world of a person who is transgender.

I fully realise that no two transgender stories are the same and please accept that the experiences and understanding I will put down here in no way invalidate, nor prove the statements or experiences of other people. These are just my experiences and I give them as is.

Yes, this is 12-year-old me being a fucking robot. Shut up it was my first cosplay.

Yes, this is 12-year-old me being a robot. Shut up – it was my first cosplay.

I’ve been told by many people that my story is a little unusual (even for a trans person) and hell – why not? My brother always thought I was a robot!

I was born in a small city (which has a very country attitude) to middle-class family and I was brought up as a male in a comfortable, yet rather homophobic, macho, patriarchal environment. I consider myself to be reasonably intelligent and very early on (after much listening, some teasing from others and trial and error on my part) I learned that to be male, you had to be strong and tough and that anything which could possibly be considered “girly” was somehow undesirable. My experiments with tights, Barbie, being loving & attached to soft-toys, desiring the company of girls over boys and being FASCINATED by the beauty and colour of girls’ clothing and school accessories all convinced me that I had to avoid all of these things (yes, all right – except the soft toys)…(and the colourful clothing – who could avoid that!?!).

I tried my VERY best to be as male as possible so that nobody discovered what I was actually feeling inside – which was that the idea of being a girl made me feel great!

Well at least until the guilt set in.

I became pretty focussed on being more male and acting tough. Yes – this is absolutely normal behaviour for a young boy, but I had a habit of over-doing it. I tried to stand tough, walk tough, sit tough, talk tough. My Dad used to record our family saying “hi” and talking about our lives for his brother and their family who were living in the USA and when I heard the recording of my voice, I usually became upset that my voice sounded so high & girlish – so I re-recorded my part & tried to speak with a lower tone. I was probably six. When every boy in my class’ voices were breaking rather violently in late primary school (elementary school for US folks), my voice still sounded like a bird chirping, so I faked a voice break and started affecting a deeper voice. In the end, I never actually had my voice break, it just gradually became deeper (so again, I forced it to go further).

As I grew older, my muscles were not developing NEARLY as much as I wanted them to, so I started going to the gym every day. Well apparently my genetics really aren’t conducive to huge muscles and (thankfully, in hindsight) I just ended up with much stronger spaghetti arms and chicken legs.

Right when I started puberty, my desire to change the way I looked became too strong to ignore and I began to experiment with dressing and presenting female…to my mirror. When nobody was home. I had a tiny box of clothes I’d made myself which I would sneak out if I was ever by myself in the house – ONLY if I was absolutely by myself in the house. I became an expert at concealing what I was doing. Before I took out my box from under my bed, I ensured that I knew exactly what was in front of it, what position everything was in and where it needed to be in order to most quickly return it to its position. Nothing was overlooked. Though I longed for a day when I could finally begin to be female outside my own room (preferably full-time, outside my own house), I was so absolutely terrified that someone would discover my secret that I hid it deep under my bed and even deeper inside myself.

I had seen the isolation, abuse and hate transgender people experienced and I wanted no part of that. My life was pretty good and despite the fact that I felt my body was all wrong, I didn’t feel losing my family and all of my friends was a reasonable price to pay to change that. What I really wanted was to find some magic amulet which allowed me to change in an instant.ranma_2

Oh how I envied Ranma Santome.

Many times, for whatever reason (hormones, some experience of the day, whatever), I would feel such guilt about my secret box that I would take the entire contents and throw it away, being careful, of course, to ensure each item was concealed in the bin, wrapped individually in garbage so that no one could ever find it. Of course shortly after throwing away all of my carefully collected and modified clothes, I would feel the need to dress again, to be myself again and I would have to start creating new clothes from scratch and  would inevitably feel stupid for getting rid of them in the first place.

Now here’s where it gets tricky – there are many people in the world who are cross-dressers and not trans. I do think, though, that as being trans becomes more common, understood and accepted in general society, people like myself who are trans and would have turned to cross-dressing in private as a means of expressing who they are because the world was too hostile will more commonly accept that they’re actually trans much earlier. We can only hope.

As much as any trans person can suppress what they feel for a time, they can never get rid of it, no matter how much they or the people around them may want to. Being trans isn’t a choice, it’s just who we are.

Since puberty, I have been through many phases of suppressing and alternately embracing my transgender identity, buying dresses and high heels, hiding them at the back of the cupboard or throwing them out, dressing as a female for a costume party and feeling so happy and comfortable, then crashing back to Earth the next morning (usually with a raging hangover to boot) and pushing those feelings away for months. Of course by the time I started attending costume parties, my hair had mostly fallen out (thanks, testosterone) and I had resigned myself to the fact that I could never realise my gender identity.

I convinced myself that I could get by dressing occasionally as my “release”. I always chose a female avatar in computer games (in those 5 games in which I could choose one), I always chose female rollplaying characters and I ensured I was gender-neutral in web forums. I came out as a cross-dresser to most people I knew (including my family) in order to allow that “release” more freedom of movement. Interestingly, the overwhelming reaction to the revelation of “my dark secret” was amusement more than anything else.

This was a state I spent a long time in, though the sense of myself inside became louder and louder.

Until around 3 years ago.

Call it a mid-life crisis, call it what you will, I was sitting on the end of my bed staring into my open cupboard and feeling desperately unhappy. I’d been angry with the kids and basically a bundle of rage for several months without explanation, nor understanding on my part. In that dark room, alone, the thought of having to put on a suit or a pair of baggy jeans and boxer shorts upset me so much that I decided I didn’t want to do it again.

Though my fight to suppress my internal gender identity is not the biggest challenge I face in my transcape, at the time, this fight had been the biggest and longest challenge of my life (yes, that includes being primary carer to 2 children under 3).

That night, sitting alone in the dark, I stopped fighting.

I was 38.

— IEK

Twitter_logo_whirlpoolAsk any professional, full-time author what the biggest drains on their writing time are (or would be if they let it) and social media will inevitably come in the top 5, if not sit at #1. Many professional writers and authors I’ve met force themselves to get off social media or even off the internet completely during their writing time in order to actually get something done. Now I’m not a full-time author, but I can tell you social media is pretty high on my list of time vacuums and I really don’t GET a lot of time to write!

But my relationship with social media and in particular Twitter is one coloured with romance – a romance specifically to do with getting my novel finished. You see there was a time when Twitter saved my novel from never being written and me from never writing again…

Some two years ago, I had a novel languishing, untouched for many months, at the bottom of a very deep pit of zeroes and ones (I have not done “paper” since around 1997). I had gone through long stints of serious writing and I had what I felt were probably enough words to craft maybe a single book, but none of it felt finished. It was like a never-ending saga without climax or closure, just a series of what I felt were pretty awesome scenes.howe_mark

It was around this time that my friend Grizzlee & I were dipping our respective toes into Twitter to try and engage with football (that’s Australian Rules
football
& specifically the AFL to us) fans for our new Podcast One Troll Short (now defunct)…(oh well). We started following people we found interesting who were inevitably football fans & personalities, AFL clubs or porn stars (because of course).

As it turned out, one particular cam girl Grizzlee followed (now I’m dropping him in it) posted a great deal about her general life and her friends and tweeps which I found far more engaging than many of the other adult industry folk who only posted advertising & pictures of their anatomy, so I followed her too. While I can’t even remember the name of this person (sorry), I followed her and found she had a number of conversations with an author friend of hers. This interested me immediately because I considered myself a writer (if not an actual author) and I started following the author friend (who I again can’t remember the name of).

Over time I gathered the courage to engage in a few of the threads between this author and her other author tweeps. Two particular author tweeps of this person were PROLIFIC on Twitter and they started to actually respond to me (unlike unknown original author person). Both of these folks posted hilarious tweets, links, and videos and are two of the friendliest, loveliest people I’ve met on social media. Their names are Leigh Ann Kopans & Megan Whitmer. They’re published authors now and don’t spend NEARLY as much time on Twitter as they used to (I MISS YOU!!), but back then, they were finishing manuscripts and doing an AMAZING job of building an author platform.

Megan was so engaged that she started a movement of writers sprint-writing their manuscripts of a Friday night (which ended up being a Saturday morning here in Australia). She called it #WriteClub (@FriNightWrites) and it was incredible. I joined Write Club for a few Saturday mornings until finally some more magnificent tweeps (Renee Wynne, Rochelle Sharpe & Emily Mead) started running the Write Club sprints on a Friday Night in Australia. I spent many a Friday night sprinting, tweeting & enjoying the writery company and, though I never got involved in organising it (because I had commitments most Friday nights and Saturday mornings), Write Club is truly what got me writing again.

As the months went by and my tribe of author tweeps grew and changed (essentially taking over my Twitter account), I also began to learn things about writing, about being an author, about the publishing industry and about how to do this damn thing FOR REAL.

One of the most important things I learned early on was that a full, completed first draft of a novel should be between 70,000 and 80,000 words. When I learned this, I went back and checked how many words I’d written on my own novel: oh only around 350,000 words.

3_booksWHAT!?!

FUCK – I have 3 novels here!!

That’s right. 3 whole novels already drafted, just not cut & edited. So of course, I picked a point at which I wanted to slice the story and deliver a single finished novel and started editing. And, of course, writing to an ending (something else I learned).

So now, here I am days from finishing my 2nd draft (yes, it’s taken me this long, shut up) and I just wanted to give up a thank you to all of the magnificent author tweeps I’ve met along the way, interacted with, learned from and hopefully taught a few things to (I have some skills, just not necessarily in publishing) and while I still find myself drawn away from my manuscript by Twitter and other social media, I always feel a sense of warmth toward it because social media is very much what saved me from losing writing altogether.

Every day, I interact with other writers and authors from all sorts of places and this is what I feel is the magic of Twitter and social media. The ability to connect with not just a few, but HUNDREDS of like-minded people around the world and draw inspiration, wisdom, courage and benefit from their experience to enhance your work, your life or your passion and to share your own experiences to potentially help others do the same.

So I’d just like to say thank you to my writery tweeps (those are both totally words) for their time and for their inspiration.

thank_you

SO THANK YOU SO MUCH (in alphabetical order because of course):

Adam Dreece

Angelina Williamson

Ann Bisky (wherever you are)

Antonius Hogebrandt

Brianna Shrum

Carey Torgenson

Cassandra Page

Courtney Cantrell

C. P McClennan

David (Evil Overlord)

Elyse Salpeter

Emily Mead

Erin McRay

Evan Carter

Gail Simone

Hayley Humphrey

Jason Cantrell

J.C. Lillis

Jennie Davenport

Julie Hutchings

Kate Fitzpatrick

Kate Sholty

Kathy Palm

Keira Drake

Kiz(zy Wiggle)

Kristine Wyllys

Leigh Ann Kopans

Maria Lewis

Megan Paasch

Megan Whitmer

Mike Cullen

Melbourne on my Mind

Niko Staten

Rachel Heyfield

Renee Wynne

Rochelle Sharpe

S.E. Carson

Sharon Livingstone

Soknou King

Sonya Craig

Tiffie van Bordeveld

Victor Dean Hampstead

If I missed anyone or if I’ve spelled your name incorrectly I’m sorry – I want to thank every publishing industry person I’ve interacted with, but alas there are too many (and I was a bit lax with the proofreading). Just know that you are appreciated.

— IEK

goggle-eyed_fishWhen I was around 12, my parents decided to take me to an allergy specialist. I had spent as long as I could remember dealing with eczema on my skin, spending spring times with my nose running like the Amazon in flood and regretting every encounter with cats or fresh cut grasses as my eyeballs swelled up like bad jelly moulds.

If I’m being honest I have to admit I occasionally rubbed my very itchy eyes deliberately because I knew they’d swell to a horror-movie size & I’d get to go home from school. I’d grown so used to it that I preferred having my eyes feel like I had actual grass growing in them to afternoon maths.

Yep, that is totally the Himalayas on my arm. Thanks, Photoshop.

Yep, that is totally the Himalayas on my arm. Thanks, Photoshop.

Anyway, the allergy specialist dripped a dozen or so blobs of liquid on my skin from tiny phials labelled “cat”, “dog”, “grasses”, “pollens” and the like. He then proceeded to pierce my skin through the blobs with a lancet. He told me that any of the dots of skin which swelled up meant I was allergic to that thing.

Well 5 minutes later didn’t my arm look like the Himalayas? Yes, I was apparently allergic to EVERYTHING. “Cat looks like the worst one though” the very amused specialist had said, staring wide-eyed at Cat-Everest.

And yes – cat is very much the worst one. I know a lot of my tweeps are cat lovers and good on you, but I have never been able to be in the same house as a cat without going semi-blind while sneezing uncontrollably. So it’s here that I admit I’m not fond of cats.

The visit to the allergy specialist was useful in that it taught me I had to avoid certain things: cats (easy – we had none), cut grasses (HAHA! NO MORE MOWING!!) and dust (wut??).

I discovered antihistamines, avoided cats (and mowing) and learned not to scratch anything which itched ever.

It was around this time that I began to notice that certain salads I ate made my mouth tingle & itch. I figured it was just a normal reaction to some sort of food, (maybe capsicum?) & thought nothing more of it.
For my whole life so far, though, I had experienced regular, excruciating stomach pain accompanied by regular, equally excruciating, visits to the toilet. The pain got so bad some days that I would briefly pass out & once I even remember hallucinating.

I thought this was just “my weak stomach” (as it was generally known) and got on with life.

I read about irritable bowel syndrome and I recognised my symptoms immediately in the descriptions of IBS, but I didn’t try to find a cure because though the pain was extreme, it was not constant. It came and went without warning and when it went, I was perfectly fine.

One day, sitting at work when I was 25 (yes – 25), I was eating a salad and reading something amusing on the Internet which made me snort-laugh. I choked a little bit on my salad, but coughed it out OK. But then I felt this sensation in my throat around my airway – the same tingly, itchy feeling I’d often felt in my mouth from salad.

Then my airway started to close up. I immediately sculled a bottle of water, then ran downstairs to the chemist we thankfully had in our building, bought some strong antihistamines and took
them.

My throat settled down thankfully, but I had realised something: I had just had a VERY mild anaphylactic reaction to something in my salad. My brother is allergic to nuts and so I have always known what anaphylaxis was and how it affected (and potentially killed) those with severe allergies. Mostly it was because their throat swelled up, blocking their airways and they suffocate.

When I returned to my desk and looked at my salad I saw that there was no particular ingredient missing more than any other, but I did like this salad because it had no dressing – it was SUPER plain.

I resolved to buy that same salad the following day and eat each ingredient one-at-a-time, finishing all of one before starting on the next.

Capsicum was my prime candidate, so I ate that first. I sat, waiting for a reaction, but there was nothing. No tingling, no itch. I moved on through lettuce, cucumber, tomato and finally I had only carrots left. I was a bit crestfallen because it couldn’t possibly be carrots. I mean who the hell is allergic to carrots? Plus I’d eaten carrots all my life! I used to eat them raw as a snack!

As soon as I placed the first chunk of carrot in my mouth, I felt the tingling and spat it out.
Bloody CARROTS!?!

Who the hell is allergic to carrots?

I’ve eaten carrots all my life!

ALL MY LIFE.

From that moment, I started to avoid carrots. If a food had carrot in it, I chose something else. If I was served something with surprise carrots (I have now realised that FUCKING EVERYTHING has carrots in it), I just try to remove as much as possible before eating it.

And guess what – I have had almost no stomach pain since. It has been COMPLETELY revolutionary to my life. I can eat almost anything (except carrots) and feel fine. My “weak stomach” has become an “iron gut”.

A few months after I stopped eating carrots and was feeling SO GOOD, I ate at a friends’ house where they served a pie with chicken and vegetables – LOTS of carrot (they didn’t know). To be polite I ate it. Oh boy did I regret that decision. The next two days were AWFUL.

Since then I have tried to avoid carrot in everything and I have felt so much better that it’s difficult to believe I have an allergy.

I have no idea what it is about carrots that I’m allergic to. Other orange vegetables like pumpkin and sweet potato are fine. I have tried the purple carrots and they are NOT fine.

Having been through this and learned about my own allergy, I felt it would be good to share it with the world in case someone else had a similar allergy to some food or other and my story could help them.

I hope SO much that none of you have the sort of stomach pain I went through, but if you do – try to think of something that tingles or itches your mouth, you may just find a mild allergy that changes your life.

— IEK

pride_heartI tried to stay clear of social media yesterday (Monday in Australia). Early on Monday morning, the world had crept up on me and punched me in the face. Not the first time I’d been punched in the face, but the first time I’d had no idea it was coming (I’ve been in a few fights, let’s just say).

Yesterday morning my Dad called and he was terribly upset. A relative who I had known since birth and with who’s family I had spent a lot of good times as a child had died. It was a shock. His family are some of our closest relatives, despite the distance between us. I’d known he had been experiencing heart trouble, but I guess things like that are never real until all of a sudden they are. I was immediately and very deeply saddened.

Later in the morning, I read about the massacre in Orlando.

50 people.

One dipshit and an assault rifle.

Again.

It was too much, so I stepped away. I needed to process.

Once I’d had a chance to at least get a sense of my own grief and was able to think about the Orlando shooting, my immediate reaction could be summed up in one image:

pride_fist

Because fuck that dipshit, fuck his assault rifle and fuck the people who would support him and encourage his viewpoint. Fuck people who think that lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex or any other group discriminated against because of their gender, gender identity or preference should be treated as anything other than equal to every other person. The time for love was done and the time to fight was now. I was going to change my avi to this fist and start fighting for the rights of LGBTI people – people like my friends, like the victims in Orlando. People like me.

But I wanted to stay away longer. I wanted to stay out of the storm which was happening on social media and spend the time just with my family. So I did and in that time, I realised that I was just buying into the same mentality which had created this dipshit – the same mentality which creates and drives a lot of these dipshits with guns: that the world is against you and you have to fight it. You have to fight, hurt and kill if you want to be heard, you have to fight, hurt and kill if you want to be taken seriously.

Well it’s not true.

It’s a lie.

It’s a lie built on centuries of macho self-importance and the desire to be stronger and/or more heavily armed than everyone else because it’s the only way some people can feel safe.

But I feel safe. I don’t worry that someone is going to take out a gun and execute me and my family. I don’t feel like I have to have an assault rifle to be heard. I’m quite OK without an assault rifle. In fact I rather prefer life without those awful things. I feel lucky that I live in Australia where shootings still occur, but the numbers of dead are 1 or 2, not 10, 20 or 50 because it’s damn near impossible to buy an assault rifle in this country and such weapons are certainly beyond the financial and logistical means of dipshits.

I have realised that if you want to create a better world – a world where everyone can feel safe, where dipshits like this guy who killed all of these innocent people in Orlando don’t feel like they have to fight, hurt or kill to be heard, we need to start by opening our hearts, not closing them off.

I changed my social media avis to a simple Pride flag over the last couple of days to show my support for the community which has shown me such amazing support in my times of need. I haven’t started any fights online and I haven’t become involved in any (yet). I’m sure there will come a time when I need to stand up for the communities and for the basic human rights I believe in, but I have come to realise that violence and the promotion of violence is not something which can ever truly end violence.

I commend the people who have taken this stance of love over hate even as I was boiling away in my indignant rage, ready to punch on. I commend them for not letting their anger get the better of them, for directing their passion toward making the world a more loving place, not a more hateful one.

So from here on, I’m going to try to follow their example.

I’m going to try to love just a bit more and hate just a bit less.

— IEK

image (Updated following Round Round 7)

As I write this, it’s not so much anger as pain.

I was angry after the first couple of rounds of the AFL season, seeing my Tigers who were so competitive and gave us so much excitement and hope for the future just last season performing like a bottom-4 team.

I’m certain Dockers fans are feeling the same as we are. What the hell has happened? How could Richmond & Fremantle possibly go from genuine contenders (looking at the bulk of the 2015 season rather than one Finals match) to contenders for the wooden spoon in one off-season?

I think the answer lies not within the walls of Punt Road or Parry Street, but within the walls of at least eight other clubs (specifically: West Coast, Adelaide, Sydney, the Bulldogs, the Kangaroos, Geelong, Melbourne & the Giants). I name West Coast first in the list because they were the first club to implement what has become the new standard for team defence in the AFL. Gerrard Healy dubbed it the “Wagles Web” and in 2015 the technique earned them a Grand Final berth. By 2016 most other clubs had adapted their own version of Adam Simpson’s revolutionary team defence, but also developed offensive structures to compliment it for them and counter-act it against similarly structured opposition.

As a result of not advancing their technique enough, the Eagles are suffering from a bout of mediocrity, but let’s face it – they’re still better than the Tigers. The question is: why?

As I said above – the answer lies with these other clubs and their new defensive and offensive structures. The sides mentioned above have been drilled in the off-season in a new team-based defensive structure which is designed to put unprecedented pressure on opposition players whilst providing predictable team-based offensive support to themselves and their teammates. And it’s working. Just look at what the Giants did to last year’s Premiers.

You may well ask: hang on, you mentioned Melbourne in the same breath as the Kangaroos? And you’re right – there’s a big gap between the two, but that gap is more about player age, personnel and maturity. Mark my words: Melbourne’s structures could take on the best if they had a mature, high-quality list. They can thank Roos for embedding them & it looks like Goodwin is more than on-board.

Your next point may well be: but you still lost to Port. And I think that loss was a great deal to do with player development (or lack thereof) and the mindset of the team, which, after the first 4 rounds appears to be: lost.

So if all of these other teams have managed to take their defensive and offensive structures to the next level, why haven’t the Tigers? More to the point – why haven’t the Dockers? I think the answer lies in one simple thing: the coaches have made mistakes. Both Ross Lyon and Damien Hardwick have backed their 2015 game plan and relied on their players developing and stepping up to the next level to take them to the next step, but in 2016, it’s really not that simple anymore. The science of defence and offense in the AFL has never been more important. It’s why clubs like the Swans and the Crows have managed to debut unheralded rookies who come in and make a genuine impact. The Dockers and the Tigers are still stuck in an AFL style which lays out a game plan reliant on star power and up until this year, this was perfectly OK and still is to an extent if you look at the Hawks (speaking of star power).

This is where I point out that the Tigers were the most competitive we’ve seen them all year against the reigning Premiers. I think Clarkson has a bit of the same problem as Lyon & Hardwick, but he has a team with extraordinary talent & an unstoppable mindset. If only we could bottle that mindset…

Both Lyon & Hardwick have also failed to develop their young players. The Dockers because Ross Lyon is allergic to anyone under the age of 25 and Hardwick because whomever is in charge of player development at Punt Road should be updating their LinkedIn. Let me also say I’m not at all fond of the midfield coach’s work, but I digress and I think the massive gap between this year and last is less to do with development of individuals and more to do with the development of a mindset and a consistent structure.

Let’s take the Tigers example, I have seen in every single match the same thing: Tigers ball-winners come away from a stoppage with the pill & either dish a handball or scrub a kick forward. If the handball is given, the player receiving the ball is mobbed & quickly dispossessed by opposition players who then flick a series of what appear to be pre-planned handballs to get clear of the erratic Tiger defence, then the Tigers’ opposition is in the clear. If the Tiger kick is scrubbed forward, it’s either straight to a contested situation or straight to the opposition – no time for decision making good or bad.

At almost no time have our panicked kicks under pressure hit the right target. And the reason is right there: pressure.

At every contest we seem to be outnumbered, at every stoppage the Tigers’ opposition seems to be more settled, better able to make a good decision.

This team defensive structure we’re facing (but not using) is also setting an impossible task for our forward line and back line. Most of our forward 50 entries are made to a contest in which we’re already outnumbered. It’s a wonder we’re scoring at all. Every time the opposition get out on the run, what has become the trademark Hardwick defensive move of having players further down the field leave their opponent to pressure the ball carrier is being ripped apart by clubs who have a field structure which positively CRAVES this style of defence. Our back-six have been put under impossible pressure with opposition players able to lead for the ball uncontested because the Tiger who should have been marking them has sprinted upfield to put pressure on the ball carrier (who either kicks it over their head or flicks another pre-planned handball to a teammate who does).

Media commentators as well as the players themselves have placed blame on the Tigers players for not running hard enough, but honestly – if a team without effective structures wants to cover a team with them, they need to run twice as far. They lose anyway.

I don’t know if our existing coaching staff can make the changes which clearly need to be made to upgrade our on-field structures and game plan to adapt for the modern game, but if they can – they need to start now. I know a football team is like a cruise ship – turning it around takes time, but we need to start making the turn right now because we’re headed for the Wooden Spoon Straits.

— IEK

mads_coffeeI had a dream last night.

I had a dream and for the first time in YEARS (I would estimate), I can remember it!

It was only relatively short, but somehow I was having a rather delightful lunch with Madonna at an on-street, outdoor cafe.

I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but I do remember waking up thinking that she was delightful company and what a nice chat over lunch.

I’ve never met Madonna in person and I tend not to watch anything celebrity-related, so I really have no idea what she would be like if we had really eaten a nice lunch together. I will continue to believe that it would be lovely.

In the dream, I was eating a pear, rocket and walnut salad (with balsamic dressing). It seemed rather tasty for dream food.

Anyway…So there’s me dream-name-dropping. Look out, Dream Elizabeth Montgomery*!

— IEK

 

*I know she passed away in 1995. I just LOVED her in Bewitched (I mean who didn’t?).

I’m going to this tomorrow and I am VERY bloody excited.

gunnas2

Thanks, Co-Consul. You win at Xmas presents.

— IEK

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