Sunday, 27 November 2016

If I Was Your Girl

I was browsing in an airport bookshop lately, and noticed the cover of this book, If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo. The book was displayed reasonably prominently, and was featured as part of the Zoella book club, as a work of fiction for young adults (which is what they are calling teenagers these days, apparently).

If I were your girl: subjunctive, people!
Normally I wouldn't be too interested in fiction for young adults. When I was a young adult myself, I just read fiction for adults. My sister used to read books by Judy Blume, and she would usually show me the juicy parts. These astonished me in two ways. They astonished me because these were books marketed at teenagers, containing detailed descriptions of sexual activity that would likely cause many parents (including ours) to have conniptions. Second, they astonished me because they were depicting a world where teenagers seemed to have no trouble having sex; lots of sex. This seemed like a glimpse into some alien world. As a teenager who was having real trouble finding someone willing even to snog me, reading the books made me feel envious and uncomfortable.

Now that I am an adult, I don't see any reason to read young adult fiction at all. Unless it seems to feature the transgender flag on the cover, which is what drew my eye.

Naturally I bought it, and read it on the flight, all the way through. And now I thought I would write a review of it.

The book centres around the life of Amanda, an 18-yr old girl in her final year of high school. She joins a new school, and falls in love with Grant, a football player. The hook (at least from a transgender point of view) is that Amanda used to be Andrew. Their relationship goes through some ups and downs, before the big reveal, and the aftermath.

I read to the end of the book before I realised that the author herself, Meredith Russo, is a transwoman. She even includes a page of comments for cisgendered readers, as well as another page of comments for transgendered readers. She explains some of the fictional devices she required to use to make the story work. One obvious one is that nobody ever doubts or guesses Amanda's trans nature, because she is already "fully formed": post-surgery, post-hormones, and with a completely realistic face and body. Russo admits this is pretty unrealistic, and I am pleased that she did; for me it was one of the most difficult parts of the story to accept.

Meredith Russo
Russo was raised in Tennessee, and sets the story in a district she is familiar with. I can't help associating that region of the southern United States with God-fearin', gun-totin', Republican-votin' good-ole-boys. To be a transgender child growing up in that environment would be, no doubt, exceptionally difficult, lonely and painful. Amanda, our protagonist, is exposed to a series of very unpleasant events: parental rejection, violent beatings at school (where she is considered to be gay by the other students), and a failed suicide attempt. These events are described starkly (in a series of flashbacks), and the writing is powerful. I dare say they will resonate with young adults who feel different (for any reason), isolated and desperate. Even I got a few pangs.
I brought my wrist up to my chest and looked down. The identification bracelet said my name was Andrew Hardy. If I died, I realized, Andrew would be the name they would put on my tombstone. I thought of the words I wrote down for the counsellor: I should have been a girl.
Amanda begins to settle into her new school, and begins to make friends. She is pleased and gratified to find that she is accepted, though this pleasure is tempered with the knowledge that, if the truth of her background were known, she would surely be rejected.
The cicadas buzzed persistently in the growing dusk. I had read once that they lived underground for most of their lives, only emerging as adults to live out their final days. Was that going to be me? Was I going to live underground for the better part of my life, never coming out into the world? (...) I wondered if joy could ever be felt by itself without being tainted with fear and confusion, or if some level of misery was a universal constant, like the speed of light.
Trans model Kira Conley on the US cover
The parts of the story with which I found most resonance are where Amanda discovers her trans identity, and meets other trans people for the first time. She is mentored in her early journey by Virginia, who introduces her to members of her local transgender support group.
A woman with broad shoulders and a faint shadow of a beard under her make-up entered next. She looked strong and stout, but the longer I looked, the more I saw the beauty in her--here a light step, here a brief touch of the hair, here a wide, open smile. Boone said, "Evening, Rhonda," to greet her.
This resonates with me because of my preoccupation with how people see Vivienne. Since I started my journey, I have come out to a couple of dozen people, and they have all been complimentary about my appearance, even the ones who met Vivienne face to face. But did they have to make an effort to see past the man in the dress to really see Vivienne? And how much of an effort did they make?
I looked Virginia up and down and saw two separate people. One was the beautiful, statuesque angel who had been there to guide me through some of the hardest steps of my transition. The other was a woman with a jaw just a little too strong, forehead just a little too high, shoulders just a little too wide, and hands just a little too big.
Without giving the story away, Amanda begins to find fulfilment and happiness in her new life. Her relationship with her parents improves. She realises other students have their secrets too: one girl takes drugs; another is a lesbian. For me, Amanda's parents and schoolmates are somewhat simple and one-dimensional. Grant, the love interest, is more interesting, though again he is cast as someone who is all goodness: good-looking, pleasant, sensitive, humble, hard-working, popular, kind to his family. The most interestingly subtle character (Amanda aside) is the villain, Parker, another student, whose complex feelings and motives are explored.
His shadow stretched out past mine. I remembered Mom telling me how frightening men were, all men really, how helpless it often felt to be a woman among men, and for the first time I understood what she meant.
The romantic aspects of the plot are well-drawn: the breathless first kiss, and other faltering steps as the relationship between Grant and Amanda begins to play out. I am relieved beyond measure to report that Judy Blume's intimate depictions are largely absent. Though the book doesn't insult its readers by pretending everyone is a virgin when they leave high school, the sexual content is handled deftly and with subtlety, just as (in my opinion) it ought to be.

So in summary, what can I say about the book? I cannot judge it as a piece of young adult fiction, since I have so little knowledge of that genre with which to compare it. I have a friend who writes romantic fiction for a living, and she tells me there is a remarkably strict pattern that her books are expected to follow. I hope the same is not true of young adult fiction, but I wouldn't be surprised (only disappointed) to find that there is. Overall, I think the story is compelling enough, and readable enough (certainly I didn't get bored or struggle to finish it). I think some of the characters are a bit flat. I think that the story of Amanda's life is told with enough sympathy and emotional resonance that transgendered readers (like me) will find much to resonate with, and there is a reasonably positive ending to look forward to.

Blazing the trail: Luna in 2004
Russo clearly hopes that cisgendered young adults will also read the book and come away with more awareness and more sympathy towards transgendered people (of all ages). And it's this, I think, which holds the book back slightly for me. It just has a hint of being slightly contrived for this purpose; as if Amanda's relationship with Grant is shown to be completely pure and perfect to show just how much of a real girl Amanda actually is.

Nonetheless, Russo deserves encouragement. I think this book represents one more snowflake in the blizzard of transgender-related material in the popular media, to which we are now exposed, and it can only do us good to get more exposure, more sympathy and more conversations started. This is Russo's first book, and I hope she writes many more. I also hope that she isn't the "token trans writer" when young adult fiction is considered.

And there are very few other similar books out there. One which Russo mentions is Luna, by Julie Anne Peters. Another is a book which I have touched on before on this blog, Boy2Girl by Terence Blacker. To my knowledge, neither Peters nor Blacker are transgendered, and both have had success with many other books; therefore they are not as brave as Russo. They can afford to experiment with new themes, while Russo has put all her chips on this debut novel. Thankfully it seems to have gone down very well, and it has favourable reviews on GoodReads and Amazon, but the Guardian reviewer (like me) had some reservations.

I haven't read Luna, but I will order it and let you know my thoughts in due course. Meanwhile, I recommend that you get hold of If I Was Your Girl and give it a read. Or perhaps wave it under the nose of a nearby young adult for their comments. And yours, of course, are always welcome below.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The End of Days

This is a post which I have been dreading to write for a very long time: the one where I talk about the end of my marriage.

Despite my very best efforts, my marriage has ended. And the ultimate reason is my cross-dressing. I guess by posting this I can both help myself to go through the necessary grieving process, and also help other people out there who might be contemplating similar problems.

What it feels like when your marriage is ending
My wife and I met in continental Europe in the early nineties. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was living in another country, and spoke several languages. She was artistic and adventurous, where I was scholarly and conventional. We were both students at the time, and we were both seeing someone else. But there was definite chemistry. In the days before the Internet, we wrote long letters to one another. By a series of very unlikely steps, we saw each other again. I graduated, took a job, and in my first holiday, I went to visit her. By this time, she was living in the US, and we were both single.

I persuaded her to come to the UK, which she did, and we immediately moved in together. We married in the late nineties. My family adored her. My uncle (an academic) praised how clever she was. My grandfather said she was the most beautiful bride to walk down the aisle of our local church. Many people have, over many years, complimented me on how lucky I was to be married to someone like her.

I knew all along, of course, that my gender was not completely congruent with my apparent identity. I have known this ever since I can remember. I can remember wanting a pink blanket in kindergarten and being told I had to have a blue one. But I did not tell my wife any of these things.
Grotesque: Corporal Klinger

Partly I did not tell her because of shame: I was in my mid-twenties, and I knew next to nothing about my gender. Wherever I looked, crossdressers were figures of scorn, of ridicule. They seemed grotesque, repulsive. A great example would be Corporal Klinger, the MASH character who is trying to convince everyone he is crazy by dressing as a woman, so they will throw him out of the Army (har-har, what a wheeze). My internal identity was completely different to that. She already had a name in my mind. I pictured Vivienne as being like a wild animal, trapped and roaring in an unbreakable cage. Although I didn't quite know who Vivienne was, I knew that she and Klinger had nothing in common.

The other reason I didn't tell my wife was that I believed that being married to her would cure me. My trans feelings largely disappeared when I was with her, and I believed that I could choose to put crossdressing aside permanently. ("When I became a man, I put away childish things"). This was (I now realise) a very naïve belief, but nonetheless a fervent one. I was trying very hard not to be trans.

Of course it didn't last. About three years into the marriage, I broke down in tears, and told her my secret: that sometimes I like to dress in women's clothing. She was utterly shocked and horrified. That was the inflection point, the point which marked the start of the downward slope which has led to the end of the marriage.

At first things didn't really change. I purged. That didn't last. In all fairness, my wife tried to have a look at crossdressing, and see what it's about. One time we even went to a transvestite ball (I was in male mode) and she spoke to the other people to hear their stories. She was fascinated, sympathetic, charming. She made a very powerful impression on the people there. But as we came out, it was as if the door slammed. We got in the car to drive home. She didn't want to talk about it; didn't want to acknowledge it. Sitting in the darkness, I realised that she was probably shocked, digesting the implications of all of this. But she would come around. In a few days, we would be able to talk about it. But we never have; not one word from that day to this.
Never mentioned: crossdressing

And then there was the Dolly incident. My wife went to Manchester with her friend for a girly weekend. Unknown to them, their hotel was hosting an extravagant transvestite event in the ballroom. It was big, brash, loud and undeniable. My wife and her friend, both very attractive women, were cajoled to join the fun, and they did: laughing and dancing the night away with glamorous trannies. The following day, they got talking at breakfast to a few of them, and my wife said she was amazed by how normal they seemed: ordinary, pleasant guys. One of them, "Dolly", gave my wife his website details. She checked his website a day or so after coming home (without telling me) and was horrified to see pictures of him pouting in lingerie with his penis on display.

This one individual didn't intend to harm me, but did so very severely. What was he thinking? That she would be aroused? That she would think it was cool? Instead, she formed the very solid (and hard to dislodge) impression, that crossdressers, even the nice ones, even the "normal" ones, are not just after glamorous frocks, drinking and dancing, but are perverts behind closed doors. Thanks, Dolly.

It took me a while to realise how my wife has the ability to compartmentalise things in her life. It is as if she can take the idea of Vivienne, and all the trappings, all the accoutrements, and put them in a box, which is never acknowledged, never opened.

My wife came from a non-Western culture, where the behaviour of both men and women is rigidly proscribed. Even though she has lived in the West for decades, there are certain things which, to her, were not negotiable, and one of those things was that her husband mustn't wear a frock. It was even OK for other people to do that, as long as it wasn't her husband. She expected an alpha-male: indestructible, unshakeable, always in control. Never uncertain. Never vulnerable. Never tearful. Such a man would make her feel safe. That seems not wholly unreasonable, but there are two problems with it. The first is that I am not that man. I am not him today, and I have never been him. The second problem is that such a man doesn't actually exist.
Trapped: Vivienne

So she put Vivienne into that box, sealed the lid tightly, and pretended that Vivienne didn't exist. But it seemed that the harder my wife tried to suppress Vivienne, the harder Vivienne demanded to be expressed, to be heard, to be acknowledged. I searched for ways to explore Vivienne's identity without threatening my marriage. I joined the Beaumont Society, in the hope of opening a dialogue with like-minded people, but (as I say in my article) that didn't help much. I explored dressing, and had one or two makeovers. Eventually I started this blog.

What I wanted, most of all (and still do, I suppose) was simply acceptance. I wanted to be able to express this tender, vulnerable side of myself to the person who mattered most to me in the world. Vivienne wasn't just about the clothing; she was about the roles and expectations placed upon me because I happened to be born a boy. I wanted to have conversations with my wife about it, not strangers on the Internet. I wanted to dress at home, not in makeover shops in other cities. I wanted to be accepted for who I am, not for who she (and in fairness, everyone else during my upbringing) told me I ought to be. I wanted to enjoy being myself, being whole.

Instead, she insisted that this side of me was disgusting, unbearable. It must never be spoken of, never acknowledged, never accepted, never tolerated. But gradually that disgust, that poison, began to leak out of the box. It began to be aimed at aspects of me which were not associated with Vivienne. My wife began to gradually shut me out, to express John Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: the evocative name he gave to the behaviours which start to appear when the death-knell of a relationship is ringing loud and clear. We were four for four. And it was utter agony for me.

It didn't matter that I put rigid boundaries around my dressing. Four episodes a year, or less, and always, always in complete secrecy. We could not go shopping to a department store without her fearing that I was looking at the female mannequins and picturing myself in their clothing. She came to view Vivienne as the other woman, the one who came first in my affections.

It didn't matter that the other aspects of our lives were good: I had a good job and provided a good standard of living; we lived in a lovely house and had lovely kids and lovely friends. I didn't have any other obnoxious habits: gambling, drinking, drugs. That was all outweighed by the fact that I was not the alpha male that she thought she married.
Corrosive to relationships: fear

I see now that she was motivated by fear. Fear that I was going to start having sex with men. For the record, this was never my plan, and still isn't. Fear that I was going to start taking hormones and having surgery. Again, this was never the plan, and it still isn't. Fear that I was going to completely come out, and start showing up at the school parents' evening in a skirt and heels, where I would be a figure of contempt and ridicule (no matter how polite they might be to my face), and a cause for the kids to be mocked or bullied. Fear that other people would look down upon her: what on Earth possessed you to marry that freak?

The antidote to fear is communication, and this was another sticking point: she just would not communicate. The prospect, the existence of Vivienne, was so terrifying, so repugnant to her, that she could not have an ordinary conversation about it. I would talk, and she would not listen. I would listen, and she would not talk. It wasn't just that she didn't talk to me. She didn't talk to anyone: didn't confide in a close friend. Her fears were grinding around inside her, destroying her on the inside. On the outside, she began to shun me openly. The intimacy dried up years ago. To describe what happened, I can't do better than the words of Yoda:
"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering".
But we still pretended, to the outside world, that everything was fine. For myself, I did everything I possibly could to keep the show on the road. I moved us here to New Zealand. But coming here permanently, we brought Vivienne, and all the other problems, right along with us.

Fabulous but unworn: shoes
In among all the agony were glimpses of hope. Just occasionally, she would buy me girly gifts, such as this pair of fabulous wedge heels. As soon as I opened the box, I was excited and I wanted to try them on. But the look of disgust on her face, as I did so, made me instantly take them off, and I have never worn them since. I think she was really trying to make it work. But in one sense, these glimpses of hope (she bought me the shoes; she must hope I liked them) were actually worse than nothing at all, because the false hope, and the let-down afterward, were especially difficult to bear.

I started to take antidepressants. They were not a solution, but they helped me cope with the daily grinding agony of my life. I am still on them. And I took us to counselling. Good counselling, with a highly-recommended professional psychologist, who saw us for two years, together and separately. But even with his help, we were unable to negotiate, to compromise. My intake of alcohol and comfort food jumped sharply upwards.

In order to illustrate my despair and agony at my situation, I often used the phrase burning to death to describe how I was feeling. I was trying to show how desperately miserable I was in my life: I was desperate to change, to move, to get out of where I was. But, in a very real way, I was also being consumed. Each time we had an argument; each time she stonewalled my feelings, I lost a bit more energy, a bit more commitment. I knew I could not hold on much longer. I knew that one day, the last bit of energy would be gone, and the marriage would be dead.

It didn't matter. My wife was unable to change. And I don't mean this harshly. I realise now that, whether she chose to or not, she could not change her feelings. As for me, I had played my last card. I had nothing left to offer.

I remember the exact moment I realised that the marriage was over. For years, there had been two paths in front of me: the path to stay and try to fix things (which was painful, and exhausting) and the path to leave and start again (which was painful, and exhausting). But always, when I looked at those two paths, the path to leave always seemed the more painful. But one day, the see-saw just tipped the other way, and it has never tipped back. I realised, with sudden clarity: I was never going to be happy if I stayed in this marriage. The realisation was terrible but inescapable.
I can't heeeeeear you!

When I told my wife it was over, she was astonished. Where did this come from? she wanted to know. Didn't you hear me when I said I was burning to death? I replied. But it turns out she didn't get it: she couldn't grasp it. She had denied it, pushed it away, in the same way she did with Vivienne: it's too painful to contemplate, so I will pretend it doesn't exist.

Since then, her anger has gone from being red hot to being blue hot, like a blowtorch. The thing she feared most, that her husband would leave, has come to pass. She cannot--yet--accept that she helped to bring this about. She cannot accept one iota of responsibility for what happened. It's all my fault; that's her truth. And it's OK.

I have called this post The End of Days, because it really feels like that from my point of view. I am losing my lovely home, and I now live in a small rental house. I will get shared custody of my children. That cosy image I once had, of having a nice job, a nice wife, a nice house, and nice kids, and being happy, has turned out to be an empty dream. And unfortunately that dream ends here.

This blog has been profoundly healing for me in so many ways. It has helped me to crystallise my feelings about myself, and my gender, and my identity. Although it's long, this article is only a drop in the bucket compared to thirty-odd volumes of hand-written journals. That banner at the top of the screen? That's one of my journals, and one of my collection of fountain pens. I write every day, when I get the chance, and I have used those journals to explore every possible avenue, every possible way, to keep the marriage on the road, to keep myself sane until the kids got a bit older, to conceptualise my wife's behaviour in different, more manageable ways. I know I am leaving this marriage having tried my absolute best to save it, using every resource I possess.

I also offer these experiences to you, my readers, in case some of you are in a similar position, and these insights help to crystallise your position.

I know that all is not lost; that there will be a new chapter in my life soon. But I don't know what it will look like, and that uncertainty is a fresh kind of agony for me. Where will I live? What will I look like? What will I wear? What will happen to the kids? What will happen to my wife? What role will Vivienne play in my life? I have no answers to any of this, and discussion will need to wait for another day, and another blog post. Meanwhile, let's close the book.

===
Addendum

Katie Robbins wrote a powerful and thought-provoking article, with a similar theme, which you can read here. And hers is a lot shorter!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Faking It - Part Two

It's taken me a while to come round to writing the second part of this article. You can read the first one (written in March 2015) here. Now that I read that article again, I am amazed to realise how far my journey has come.

Much as I adore Freakonomics Radio, that wasn't where I first heard the idea of Faking It. Instead, it was a British TV show which premiered in the year 2000. The premise was simple: they would take an unlikely ordinary person, have them intensively transformed and coached by a team of experts in a particular field--for a short time--then the contestant (known as the "faker") would have to perform in front of a panel of judges (who know they are looking to spot a fake), to see if they could pass.

Title card for the show
As one example, take the very first episode. Alex Geikie, a gentrified English youth from the Home Counties of England, who liked to ride horses, had to pass as a hard-man bouncer in an East London pub. He was coached by Tony Agastini, a kick-boxing champion. Alex shaved off his hair, gradually ditched his pukkah accent in favour of East-End hardman talk (think Guy Ritchie movies), learned to fight by getting beaten up by Tony's girlfriend (!) in the boxing ring, got fake tattoos, and finally worked as a bouncer for a night, among real, hard-bastard bouncers.
Guardian: At RADA, Alex was coached in talking common: "The word fuck is desperately important to all Londoners. Fuck you, fuck me, fuck off! Lengthen the vowel. Let the breath be the impetus. Farkin' 'ell! Don't smile! Mean it." In grammar: "I was, you was, she was, they was."

After a month's training, Alex was one of several bouncers at the Hippodrome on the night of the England v Germany match and the head of security failed to spot the imposter ("Nah! Honestly?") Tony was much moved. "It's like seeing your kid walk and talk for the first time, innit? Very proud. Very proud. But he should be proud of himself too."
The show drew very positive reviews (such as this one from the Guardian, which is where the quote above comes from, written by Nancy Banks-Smith). Subsequent episodes featured burger flipper Ed Devlin who was trained to be a chef (by Gordon Ramsay, no less); classical cellist Sian Evans who was trained to be a nightclub DJ; and cleaner Sharon Pallister who was trained to become Scarlet Fever, a burlesque performer, by Immodesty Blaize with input from Dita von Teese. You can see this last one starting here on YouTube.

Not yet faking it: Spence Bowdler
I've already mentioned on this blog how I believe that there is something liberating about stepping outside your normal life, and being someone else for a while, and how I wonder if some actors and other performers enjoy this aspect of their work. It's this, I think, which the show attempts to recreate.

The show has several brilliant features. First the "fakers" are deliberately selected to be hopelessly inappropriate for their adopted roles. Almost all are quiet, soft-spoken, lacking in self-confidence, set in their ways. They all have a metaphorical mountain to climb to pull off their new roles. Second, the mentors, often in initial despair or exasperation, become fond, and eventually proud of the fakers. Third, the fakers almost always manage it: to pass unnoticed by judges and onlookers. Finally, it's clear that the experience of the training--and the faking--opens up new and undiscovered vistas for most of them; they discover qualities in themselves that they never knew they possessed. In short, it is visibly life-changing, and often this is very emotional for them. It all makes for extremely compelling television.

The producers made at least one follow-up episode, where they revisited the fakers a couple of years later. Almost without exception, they had reacted positively to the experience. I notice, for example, that the Scarlet Fever episode was uploaded by Scarlet Fever herself on her own YouTube channel.

Drag: Dave Lynn
And that brings me on to Spence Bowdler. If you live in the UK, this episode (in fact, the whole series) is available to watch, free, on the Channel 4 website. If you live outside the UK, you may as well forget it: I've been trying for days. There are only a few episodes of Faking It available on YouTube, and this is not one of them. However, the Guardian reviews are very helpful and give a real flavour of the episodes.

Bowdler, a 30-yr old ex naval officer, and self-confessed macho man, was to fake it as a drag queen. His mentor for the show was veteran British drag queen Dave Lynn. This episode was one of the most popular episodes of Faking It ever produced. The normal hour-long episode was stretched out to 76 minutes, because there was so much good material to include.
Guardian: There's an ancient affinity between drag queens and sailors - where you find one, you will usually find the other at no great distance.
Lynn and Bowdler strike up an unlikely friendship, helped perhaps by Lynn's straightforward, matter-of-fact approach to a man shaving his legs, wearing stilettos and false eyelashes, tucking ("you sort of shove them back in their sockets"), and all the other activities required to become a drag queen.

We follow Bowdler through a series of increasingly uncomfortable experiences. The most powerful is when Lynn shows him a rack of frocks to try on, and it dawns on Bowdler that he is going to be expected to wear a dress for the first time ever in his life. He has a visible meltdown, retreats from the camera, and won't come back into the room. The producers may have thought that was the end of their show.

Getting the lippy on: Spence
But come back he does, and carries on. Later, he struts his stuff on the stage, in full drag, under the drag queen name Britney Ferry. And the judges don't spot him as the fake. At the end of the show, Bowdler muses about his initial prejudices; how he felt he had overcome them, and how shallow and misplaced he now felt they were. It's a powerful moment.
Guardian: But what made Faking It so gratifying were the clear, measurable results of the experience for both student and mentor. Spence was euphoric in his realisation that life is a great big fruit salad, and that "prejudice is just balls" (and therefore best tucked out of sight). Dave Lynn, the hardened old pro, softened up and admitted that he'd learned even more about his place in the world. The two bosom buddies closed with a duet of Stand By Your Man; seldom have the words "sometimes it's hard to be a woman" rung so true.
The episode resulted in Dave Lynn getting a considerable boost in popularity, and he made several subsequent appearances on TV. There is a great interview with him here. And the Guardian review of this episode, written by Rupert Smith, is here.

So what relevance does this show have for me? I don't especially have any affinity for drag as an art form. I've never been to a drag show. I think drag is a form of performance art, whereas Vivienne feels very much part of my identity; an inextricable part of me, not some persona that I adopt when I get dressed.

I suppose the first part of it is that I am envious. Bowdler gets four weeks of intensive tuition in performing as a woman: make-up, clothes, hair, shoes, gait, the works. Perhaps four weeks would be too much, but I certainly feel I could use a few tips from the experts about how to improve my overall look as a woman. (Clue: I'm trying not to look like Bowdler in the picture!)

Second, there is permission. All of the fakers in the show get encouragement, verging on a requirement, to step outside their ordinary world and embrace something entirely new: a new way of doing just about everything. Some of the rest of us (i.e. me) hesitate at every tiny step outside the comfortable boundaries of what others expect of us. The fakers blasted those boundaries wide open, and did it with the support of those around them. And for each of them, that must have been a very powerful and long-lasting experience. Faced with the end of my marriage, I am contemplating what the new me will be like. Some of those boundaries will need to be redrawn: but which? And I will need to make my own permission to make it happen.

Finally, though, the people in the show are faking it. After the credits roll, they can, if they choose, return to their previous lives and pick up where they left off, as if nothing had happened. This is not true of me: Vivienne remains an awkward, uncomfortable part of my life, and my future life will need to include her, one way or the other. The faking it, for me, was pretending Vivienne didn't exist.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Sex and Gender in Sports: Part Two

In my previous article I considered the distinction between male and female athletes competing in top competitions such as the Olympic games. Right at the nub of the issue is whether women with naturally high levels of testosterone have an unfair advantage against women with lower, or "normal" levels of testosterone.

But what about transgender or transsexual athletes? Those born in an apparently ordinary male body, who legitimately transition to the female sex? What happens to them?

Renee Richards
Renee Richards is the first example I have to offer. Born Richard Raskind, the child of two doctors, Richards was a successful male athlete, and also obtained a medical degree. In 1975 (which puts her age at 41), she pursued a career as a professional woman tennis player. However, in 1976 the US Tennis Association had introduced Barr body testing (a type of genetic testing) that year. Richards refused to take the test, and was therefore banned from top tennis tournaments, the US Open, Wimbledon and the Italian Open that year.

Richards took the US Tennis Association to court, alleging discrimination by gender in violation of her human rights. She won her case, and was allowed to play in the 1977 US Open tournament.

Richards' tennis career was quite short-lived, and she retired from professional tennis in 1981, just 4 years later, and returned to medical practice in ophthalmology.

Richards' case provoked considerable discussion. Official sports governing bodies were very uncomfortable. According to Wikipedia, the US Olympic Committee stated:
IOC: There is competitive advantage for a male who has undergone a sex change surgery as a result of physical training and development as a male.
And indeed, it's hard to argue with that viewpoint. But in addition to official perplexity, Richards faced consternation from the general public too. My correspondent Rhonda wrote "I recall it being said that Renee had an advantage because she competed in a new category, unique to her: 'Mixed Singles'." And even her own fellow athletes were unhappy: when Richards was allowed to play as a woman, 25 of 32 competitors promptly withdrew in protest from the Tennis Week Open.

In this article describing her life and career, written by Emily Bazelon, Richards herself comments on her status as a transsexual athlete. I quote the final paragraph in its entirety:
Bazelon: The science of distinguishing men from women in sports remains unsettled. And Richards has come to believe that her past as a man did provide her advantages over competitors. “Having lived for the past 30 years, I know if I’d had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me. And so I’ve reconsidered my opinion.” She adds, “There is one thing that a transsexual woman unfortunately cannot expect to be allowed to do, and that is to play professional sports in her chosen field. She can get married, live as woman, do all of those other things, and no one should ever be allowed to take them away from her. But this limitation—that’s just life. I know because I lived it.”
Michelle Dumaresq
Wikipedia has a list of transgender athletes, both female-to-male and male-to-female. There are, unsurprisingly, few Olympic type events, though there are cyclists, such as Canadian mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq, and fighters, such as American mixed martial artist Fallon Fox. Caitlyn Jenner is of course mentioned.

In 2003, the International Olympic Committee drew up regulations to cover transsexual athletes. To me, at first glance, they seem pretty reasonable:
  1. The athlete must have undergone sexual reassignment surgery, including changes to the external genitalia and gonads.
  2. The athlete must be legally recognised in their desired sex.
  3. The athlete must undergo hormone therapy for at least two years.
These guidelines were modified in 2015, due to recognition that it might not be acceptable to require surgery in otherwise healthy people, and that some countries refuse to grant legal recognition to people who change sex. Therefore, the regulations were changed. The requirement for surgery was dropped, and the only stipulation now requires that the athlete's testosterone level be under 10 nmol/l. (See my previous article for why this might be problematic).

Chris Mosier
As for these games, the UK Daily Mail reported that two unnamed male-to-female athletes were considered for inclusion in Team GB to compete in Rio, but the Internet has been silent about whether they managed it. Meanwhile, Chris Mosier competed as a triathlete for team USA. As a female-to-male, Mosier needs to take testosterone, though a Therapeutic Use Exemption means it's acceptable. The Wikipedia article states that "two closeted transgender athletes competed" at Rio.

The first transgendered sportsperson I recall ever hearing about was Mianne Bagger, a professional golfer from Denmark. According to Wikipedia, Bagger was only the second high-profile transgendered athlete who won recognition from sports' governing bodies to compete in their desired sex, after Renee Richards. A 2004 article from the Guardian newspaper reports that Bagger experienced a slightly warmer welcome from her fellow professionals than Richards did. Subsequently, Lana Lawless sued the Ladies' Professional Golf Association in 2010, which at that time was clinging to a rule that women golfers were required to have been born female. In 2014 another doctor, Bobbi Lancaster, was permitted to play in an LPGA tournament, and this article describes her as the first transgender woman golfer to compete in such a tournament.

So much for the professional athletes. What about those lower down? Una over at TransasCity has produced a couple of relevant articles, and you can read them here and here.

Judit Polgar
I want to close this double article with a shout out to one of my heroes, Judit Polgar. Polgar, 40, is the strongest female chess player in history. The youngest of three sisters, the Polgar girls were intensively coached in chess by their polymath father, Laszlo Polgar, who believed that "geniuses are made, not born".

Everybody "knows" girls aren't as good at chess as boys. Even FIDE, the world chess governing body, awards separate women's titles. The Woman Grandmaster (WGM) title is easier to attain than the Grandmaster (GM) title. But try telling that to the Polgar sisters. They refused to compete in woman-only tournaments, from the beginning, bringing them into some conflict with the Hungarian Chess Federation. However, the Polgars persisted. Laszlo wrote:
Laszlo Polgar: Women are able to achieve results similar, in fields of intellectual activities, to that of men. Chess is a form of intellectual activity, so this applies to chess. Accordingly, we reject any kind of discrimination in this respect.
And his daughters went on to prove him right. Judit achieved an astonishing series of accomplishments: she achieved the rank of full Grandmaster (not WGM) at the age of 15, then the youngest person ever to have done so. She was ranked 55th best player in the world at age 12. She is the first ever (and so far, only) woman to achieve an Elo rating of greater than 2700, and she peaked at number 8 in the world in 2005. Now, of course, FIDE allows players of both sexes to compete in tournaments, but of 1441 GMs in the world, only 31 are currently women, so the women do have some catching up to do. And I bet nobody even bothers about their testosterone levels.

I wonder how much chess is like golf. In most Olympic sports, muscle mass, lung capacity and other physical measures of fitness really matter. In that circumstance, one could say that the extra physical size of someone born male could offer an advantage if they transitioned. However, in golf, this is less obvious, and Mianne Bagger has insisted that she has no physical advantage from being born male.

In chess, of course, physical fitness is irrelevant, provided you can deal with the stress of the games and tournaments. I believe that the low number of female grandmasters is not a reflection of women's ability to play chess, but a reflection of how few women take up chess seriously. I did a quick Google search for transgender chess players, but didn't turn anything up. As always, comments are welcome. Meanwhile, whether it's golf, chess, cycling or whatever, keep doing your thing.

Sex and Gender in Sports: Part One

It's just been Olympic time again, and that means we are overdue for a topic which I have been considering for a long time: how do you separate male and female athletes? This article was prompted by the Olympics, but has relevance to sporting competition in all spheres.

The modern Olympic games has been going for more than a century. Revived by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1896, the modern games started to allow women to compete in the 1900 games, held in Paris. But it took until 2012 (the London games) before every competing nation sent women athletes to the games, and the 2012 games were also the first to have women competing in every sport in the programme.

It turns out that men do better, in general, than women at sporting events. As just one example, the four-minute mile has been routinely broken by men, since it was first achieved by Roger Bannister in 1956, but no woman has ever achieved it; the fastest woman is still 12 seconds away. So it makes sense to segregate male and female athletes, so that the competition is fair.


Dora Ratjen
This throws up some problems. First, how do we actually decide who is a man and who is a woman? It hasn't ever been easy. Dora Ratjen was an intersex individual, born with ambiguous genitalia, assigned female at birth and raised as a girl. Ratjen competed for Germany in the women's High Jump in the 1936 Summer Olympic games, and finished fourth. In 1938, Ratjen competed in the European Athletics Championship, and won a gold medal in the high jump. The following year, Ratjen broke the World Record for the High Jump. After an official investigation (following a complaint from another athlete), Ratjen was, at that time, discovered to be working as a male waiter under the name Hermann. He was stripped of his title. Ultimately Ratjen chose the name Heinrich, and lived out the rest of his life as a man.

Wikipedia mentions two other athletes from this period, Zdenek Koubek, and Mary Weston, with similar biographies. These were intersex people with ambiguous genitalia, raised as girls, who competed as women. In common with Ratjen, Koubek and Weston each later transitioned to male.

US Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage called in 1936 for a system to be set up to examine female athletes to make sure they were actually female. Unfortunately, physical examination was the only way to do this. I do not doubt that those examinations were undignified, uncomfortable, and unreliable.

It took another 30 years for chromosome testing to be adopted, in 1968. Surely this would sort everything out, using hard science. Everyone knows that human males have the chromosome pattern 46XY, and females have the chromosome pattern 46XX. So there's your answer.

Maria Jose Martinez-Patino
Except that it isn't. Most individuals with androgen insensitivity syndrome have the chromosome pattern of a male, 46XY, and produce testosterone. However, their bodies are not sensitive to the testosterone, which means they develop as women. Such women are infertile, and lack a uterus, but are externally indistinguishable from 46XX women. Spanish athlete Maria Jose Martinez-Patino was disqualified from competition in the 1988 Summer Olympic games because she failed such a chromosome test, though she was reinstated for competition in the 1992 games. She has since become an academic, and has written about her experience here in the Lancet.

Likewise, some people have the chromosome pattern 47XXY (Klinefelter syndrome), or are mosaics (in other words, not all their cells have the same chromosome pattern).

So, once again, the testing lets us down. The problem is that, even at the chromosome level, the actual level of the DNA itself, humans don't fall neatly into male and female categories.

In 2011, the IAAF came up with yet another idea: that athletes should be separated according to how much testosterone they have. There is a good discussion of this ruling here. The focus on testosterone is because it's considered that a high level of testosterone is what provides men with their athletic advantage. The IAAF ruled (among other things):
  • Athletic competition will continue to be divided into men’s and women’s categories
  • A female with hyperandrogenism who is recognised as a female in law shall be eligible to compete in women’s competition in athletics provided that she has androgen levels below the male range (my italics)

  • The new testosterone limit was set at 10 nanomoles per litre of blood. This level was chosen because it's three times higher than the upper limit of normal for women, and it was reasoned that very few women would naturally have a testosterone level this high. It's at the very bottom of the normal range of testosterone for men under 50.

    This does solve some problems. It does away with examining physical characteristics and chromosomes (though not the indignity of subjecting someone's identity to detailed scrutiny). It even allows for athletes to potentially change sex and still compete as their new sex, provided their hormonal profile fits.

    Caster Semenya
    But once again, there are different problems. Enter Caster Semenya. This South African athlete became the centre of another humiliating sex-testing furore in 2009 aged 18, when she won the 800m gold medal. She was cleared by the IAAF to compete as a woman in 2010, and has, most recently, won Olympic gold in Rio in the 800m event.

    Details of Semenya's medical profile are somewhat sketchy, because she her test results have (rightly) been ruled confidential. The BBC reports that she has hyperandrogenism, which means her testosterone level is much higher than an ordinary woman, and even higher than many ordinary men. Indian athlete Dutee Chand has hyperandrogenism too.

    The pressure on athletes to succeed at the top level, where the difference between success and failure can be measured in milliseconds or millimetres, is enormous. Therefore, it's understandable that athletes want to take every possible step to maximise their performance (and understandable--but not forgivable--when some resort to cheating to make this happen). And it's understandable that their opponents may be angered by what they perceive as an athlete with an unfair advantage being allowed to compete against them.

    Because of the 2011 ruling, female athletes with hyperandrogenism were sometimes required to take medication to lower their testosterone to the "normal" female range. But it gets worse still. In 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on health reported that "a number of athletes have undergone gonadectomy (removal of reproductive organs) and partial clitoridectomy (a form of female genital mutilation) in the absence of symptoms or health issues warranting those procedures". In other words, some athletes have been having surgery they don't need in order to ensure they don't fail a sex test. The UN is outspoken in its condemnation of this, and there are some more details here.

    The testosterone restriction was removed for the 2016 Rio Olympics, allowing Semenya (and other hyperandrogenic women) to compete, free of testosterone suppression, because the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that the limit should be abandoned for two years to study whether testosterone provides an unfair advantage to athletes. But the debate continues, and there is a powerful article here.

    All of the athletes we have discussed have been competing as women. There seems to be no restriction on anyone who wants to compete as a man. The IOC released a statement in 2012 which said this:
    IOC: In the event that the athlete has been declared ineligible to compete in the female category, the athlete may be eligible to compete as a male athlete, if the athlete qualifies for the male event of the sport.
    Faster than Caster: Usain Bolt
    The next point I want to make is that nobody here is cheating. Dora Ratjen was raised a girl through no fault of her own, and competed as a woman at a time when intersex conditions were poorly recognised or understood. Maria Jose Martinez-Patino has androgen-insensitivity syndrome. And Caster Semenya has hyperandrogenism. None of those people has deliberately done anything to improve their performance other than training. The notion that Semenya and other hyperandrogenic women should have their testosterone levels deliberately suppressed seems no more "fair" to me than the notion that Usain Bolt should have some of his thigh muscles removed, or his legs shortened, to make his performance "fairer". Intersex people have a long history of being "normalised" by medical treatments.

    But Joanna Harper, herself a transgender athlete and medical physicist, argues differently. My quotes come from Sarah Barker's excellent article here:
    Barker: ...success in sports is one of the greatest advancements in women’s lives. If we value women’s equality, it is imperative that we protect the ability of all women to succeed in sports. I believe that billions of potential female athletes deserve the right to compete with some semblance of a level playing field, and that requiring all women to compete within a given testosterone range is the best way we currently have to create such a playing field.
    Is testosterone everything? Surely not; otherwise Caster Semenya would surely be able to run a four-minute mile. The exact role of testosterone remains unclear; there is even a 2014 paper which analyses testosterone levels in 693 elite athletes. It discovered that 16.5% of men (and remember, we are talking about elite athletes) had low testosterone levels, while 13.7% of women had high levels, overlapping with the men. The papers authors concluded:
    Healy, et al: Hormone profiles from elite athletes differ from usual reference ranges. Individual results are dependent on a number of factors including age, gender and physique. Differences in profiles between sports suggest that an individual's profile may contribute to his/her proficiency in a particular sport. The IOC definition of a woman as one who has a ‘normal’ testosterone level is untenable.
    So the debate clearly has a way to go. I think my bottom line is this. If you are going to separate men and women in athletic competition, you need to draw the line somewhere. This will--inevitably--provide advantage to some people and disadvantage to others. If you draw that line as the body you were born with, then hyperandrogenic women like Caster Semenya will surely come to dominate women's sports. If you draw it at an arbitrary level of testosterone, then you will force some athletes to take medications (and in extreme cases, to have surgery) in order to compete.

    No easy answer. I had planned to include transgender athletes in this article, but, as usual, I have found too much material, so I will split this article into chapters. In the next section, I shall consider transgender (rather than intersex) athletes.

    ===
    If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in my article about Female Bodybuilding.


    Sunday, 7 August 2016

    The Man from Venus

    This post follows on from my previous post about how society at large considers that there are only two gender categories.

    Pop psychology agrees. For example, the famous book by John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. (There are others too, such as the two books The Male Brain, and The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine. My wife bought me a copy of the former. I think she was trying to tell me something).

    In any case, I thought it was worth unpacking some of the detail around that.

    Mars
    The Roman god Mars was the god of war. The planet Mars has been known since antiquity (the Greeks called him Ares). It was named by the ancients because of its obvious red colour; clearly associated with blood and therefore violence. In association with Mars, we have words like martial, meaning "to do with fighting", such as in martial arts, martial law and court martial.

    I had never appreciated that the planet Mars has a different colour, until I moved to the Southern Hemisphere. Using an app for my iPhone, I can easily find Mars in the night sky, and it's amazingly red (actually more like orange). In the Northern Hemisphere, I struggled to see anything of the night sky at all; down here you can see the Milky Way and other celestial objects very clearly.

    The astronomical symbol for Mars is a stylised depiction of Mars' circular shield, with his spear behind it. This symbol is very familiar to us; not only is it used to depict Mars in astronomical shorthand (with which few of us have any real association), but it has also been borrowed to represent the male gender. Wikipedia says the symbol can also represent iron.

    So there we have it. Mars: red and bloody; iron; warlike; spear and shield. That's obviously what men are supposed to be all about.

    Everyone knows that Venus was the Roman goddess of love and beauty, whom the Greeks called Aphrodite. The planet Venus is one of the brightest objects in the sky, and has long been recognised as the Morning Star and the Evening Star.
    Venus

    The astronomical symbol for Venus is a stylised depiction of Venus' hand mirror. When you are the goddess of love and beauty, you have a reputation to live up to, so you have to make sure you are always looking good.

    Wikipedia says this symbol is associated with copper, as well as being borrowed for use to depict the female gender.

    Adjectives to do with Venus are less well-known, and come from the Roman genitive form veneris. The obsolete term for sexually transmitted disease is venereal disease, and my dictionary says that venereal refers only to sexual intercourse. In anatomy, the pubic mound is known as the mons veneris; the mound of Venus.

    So there we have it again. Venus: beautiful; luminous; sex; hand mirror. That's obviously what women are supposed to be all about.

    Society tells me I should identify with Mars, when instead I feel much more affinity with Venus. The title of this post suggests a cheap B-movie, with a hideous villain (believe me, I feel like one sometimes).

    But the truth is this: men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. Humans are all from Earth, all of us. And that means we need to recognise that, instead of being two separate groups, we are all one group, with considerable overlap between male and female. We don't do ourselves any favours (or any justice) if we pretend otherwise.

    Saturday, 6 August 2016

    A Tale of Two Boxes

    Back in 2014 I wrote a post called Frightening the Horses, which largely discussed a 2002 article by American writer and psychotherapist Amy Bloom, entitled Conservative Men in Conservative Dresses, which was published in Atlantic Monthly.

    The first line of the article is this one:
    Bloom: Heterosexual cross-dressers bother almost everyone.
    When I first read that line, I found myself agreeing with it. In fact, some of them even bother me, and I am one! If you missed Bloom's article, it's well worth a read in its entirety. I think it's also worth having a read of my post; it certainly generated a lot of discussion.

    I've been thinking about why it is that crossdressing bothers us so much. As Bloom says, drag queens don't bother us. Nor do female impersonators (she cites several American examples; instead I point you to Danny la Rue, and Hinge and Bracket as popular British examples). She even points to those women in history who have had to adopt the male persona in order to succeed. And transsexuals don't bother us.
    I don't speak his language

    I cross-dress whenever I can, which is not as often as I would like. The rest of the time I live my life as if I were an ordinary man.

    But my whole life I have been different from other boys and men. I am sensitive. I cry easily. I loathe many of the trappings of “traditional” masculinity (field sports, big rugged vehicles, hunting and fishing, weapons, coarse behaviour, macho posturing, or the objectification of women). I especially loathe it when other people (men or women) ascribe those things to me, or assume I must have some affinity with them, just because I was born a boy.

    You might say that I should just learn to be a sensitive man and to find ways to explore and express my sensitive, caring, nurturing side in the world of men (and stick two fingers up to the knuckle-dragging bottom-feeders who would persecute me for it). But I don't: instead I choose to express those aspects of myself by attempting to experience the world of women. It's not just the clothes and the lipstick: those are merely the external manifestations of something which goes right down to my core identity as a human being. I feel much more comfortable in the company of women. I espouse feminist principles very openly. I suspect (but cannot, of course, be sure) that I have been imprinted (at a young age) to associate femininity with the aspects of my personality I cannot easily express as a man. In other words, it’s too late to change.

    “Crossdressing makes you comfortable,” I am sometimes told. No. Slippers make me comfortable. Crossdressing (using that as a convenient shortcut for the whole package of stepping out of the male role and embracing the female one) is a necessity for my psychological wellbeing.

    So it's a simplification (and a hurtful one) to say I just “like to dress up” or “it's all just a bit of fun”, or I am just “getting in touch with my feminine side”. It goes much deeper than that. I have powerful and irrepressible yearnings to dress, and when I do, it feels right on a level which is difficult to fully articulate. It isn't an act. It isn't a pretence. It doesn't feel like a sham.
    
    Kept apart: male and female

    I can see why some people need that feeling all the time. In other words, I think what separates me from them is not some huge gulf (“a cross dresser is only pretending to be a woman, while a trans woman is a woman”), but actually a considerable degree of overlap.

    I have found that suggesting this makes some trans women uncomfortable: men who cross-dress in our society (and don't I know it!) are treated as figures of scorn or ridicule (or worse, sexual perversity), and I can completely see why trans women would want to distance themselves from that. But from my perspective, it is the truth.

    As a male-to-female crossdresser, I do feel that some fully-transitioned people look down on me. They seem to be saying "We are nothing alike, since you are 'only' a crossdresser. Our motivations are not the same. Our behaviour is not the same. The reasons why we do what we do are not the same".

    The difficulty I have is that none of these things is demonstrably true (and I admit I am a lumper, not a splitter). When I ask those people to explain their viewpoint (or occasionally challenge them) I get three basic responses:
    1. Because I don't automatically accept their word, I must be transphobic, just like all those others.
    2. I haven't done enough reading, and if only I would read this book or that blog it would all become clear; or
    3. I can't possibly understand because I am "only" a crossdresser.
    I stress that these people are the minority, and that most trans people I know are lovely, welcoming and inclusive.
    The story we tell ourselves

    But here is what I think: society has a story we tell ourselves. That story is that there are two genders, male and female. The most "acceptable" people are those who start off on one side and stay there. But most people are (I think) comfortable with people who start off on one side and go all the way across to the other, because that just about fits the story.

    I think it’s easier for cisgendered people to accept a person who “was” once a man but “is” now a woman, and it’s harder for them to accept that, actually, there are a lot of us somewhere in the middle zone (perhaps the rainbow zone?) between those two boxes (including some people who might identify or “qualify” as cis-gendered). (Likewise, it's acceptable to be a drag queen, who is male in his normal life. Putting on a dress is only an act, right?)

    But society is very uncomfortable with people in that middle zone, because they don't fit the story: it might be people who choose to be neither one nor the other gender, intersex people, or people (like me) who trespass across the middle zone from time to time. (I think that explains why there is tremendous pressure on intersex people to align themselves to one or other gender).
    Which one do you think I am?

    Of course, the story is wrong, at all levels from the cell, to the person, to society as a whole. But that is still the story we tell; even some trans people tell it. I think a lot of trans people overtly, or subconsciously, reinforce that gender binary. I think it helps them to feel more comfortable about themselves, and I think it helps cisgendered people to feel more comfortable about them.

    I don’t identify as an ordinary man. I don’t identify as a woman either. I am not quite sure what I identify with! I sometimes describe myself on Quora as a "part-time woman". And I want to say to those people who think they are so different: we have more that unites us than divides us, and we should concentrate on our commonalities, not our differences.

    As for the stereotypes of men and women, they are created by society. But I am a member of society. I cannot simply step aside from its conventions, nor ignore its rules (whether they please me or not). Even though there are many, many people who don't fit the stereotypes, the stereotypes persist. It does seem, though, that society is changing: it is becoming more acceptable to not fit the binary.

    Come and join me in the middle zone. There are plenty of comfortable seats, and the wine has just been opened!

    ===
    Addendum 28th August 2016

    My thanks to Patricia for sending me a link to this article by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper. It's articulate, forthright and powerful, and adds another perspective to the idea of the "spectrum of gender" You can read the full thing here.