Flowers – not owls

What happens when you force someone to be something they are not? One powerful answer to that question was provided, many years back, in Alan Garner’s “Owl Service” – a beautifully crafted children’s book (with adult resonance) about what happens when a spirit is forced to be what she is not. Violence ensues.

Forty years on, I still love the denouement: “She wants to be flowers – but they keep making her owls”. That and the fact that when finally that simple truth is recognised, the malevolence that hangs over the story is dispelled, giving way to peace and harmony.

I thought of that today, reading a piece in the Guardian by Paris Lees. I thought a little of that last week, when asked to explain why trans folk should be treated on the NHS. The answer comes in two parts.

Eliminating the negative

First, we are out of gender. The way we have been reared, mostly, is utterly at odds with who we are – and if you do that to anyone, the results will be bad. Sometimes seriously bad.

The NHS acknowledges that the trans community as a whole has one of, if not THE highest suicide rates of any group within the NHS. That and self-harm. Strangely, allow someone to transition, and that rate swiftly evaporates.

We are also pretty antisocial. Sorry. Let me qualify that. As Paris wrote: seven years ago, she was in borstal and on her way into the prison system. I am glad she has come clean about this publically: when she and I first spoke, she expressed real concern that if that ever came to light, she would be pilloried.

No, Paris: you won’t be. Because what happened to you is what society needs to understand. Sift thru the stories of transition, particularly young transition, and time and time and time again you will find this nugget: angry young man or woman, violent, given to anti-social behaviours suddenly metamorphoses, thru transition, into a delightful human being.

Is there, perhaps, a clue there?

Make us owls – and we react badly: allow us to be flowers and something else will shine thru.

Difficult for reactionaries

Ah. But how will that play with readers of the Express and Mail? It sounds dangerously like we’re saying: treat us or else. Or else we’ll kill ourselves. Or you.

Of course, that’s no different, in some ways, from what happens with other conditions. Dyslexia, f’rinstance, can lead to serious anti-social behaviour, which clears in a moment as soon as the root cause is identified.

Emphasise the positive

Besides, people like ME.. .the late transitioners.. . we behave ourselves. Don’t we?

Not quite. I’d say two things of my life – and again, this is backed by experience and research. First is a sense of utter loss and frustration. Living as male for so many years has felt, continues to feel, a complete waste. As though I was living in a foreign land and never learned the language.

My academic history augured well for me, career-wise: in the end, I ended up nowhere special and that, in part, seems to have been about total bemusement with the language of the gender I’d been assigned to. Always on the outside, paddling desperately to look as though I’d fitted.

Or alternately, dabbling in bolshy politics.

(Now there’s a thought: I wonder just how many revolutionaries of ages gone by were actually blokes with gender issues: Lenin, Trotsky/ Surely not Stalin!)

In just a couple of years, even as someone who is still, according to some sections of the public a “reviled tranny”, I can feel myself fitting, adapting, working so, so much more productively.

Which ties very closely to some academic work I’ve been hearing about in the last week or so: that post-transition, certainly for trans men, possibly for trans women, earnings go up significantly. To the point where the additional tax revenue more than pays for the transition process.

In my own case, I am not so sure. From where I sit now, I think that, had I transitioned twenty years back I’d have faded…but happily: dwindled to Stepford wife and beauty therapist.

Huh? But I know: know now what makes me happy and compared to what went before, this is technicolour, that was black and white. This is living: that wasn’t.

The bottom line is: there are many reasons for supporting transition.

And if the wider community can’t do so out of simple empathy for another’s plight, there are also some very good self-interested reasons for doing so. Fewer suicides, less anti-social behaviour – and a small but significant extra cohort of well-adjusted socially productive individuals.



6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Shirley Anne said,

    Well said Jane! It is a saddening thought that many transsexuals could have been saved from self-harm or suicide had the rest of the population been supportive and understanding, not only that but doing their best to resolve problems instead of creating them. You touched on the fact that some transsexuals become anti-social because of their inability to resolve their problem due to the restraints of society and the attitudes of others. I have so say in support of that argument that was pretty much how I was when in my youth and until I tried to cope with adult life in my mid twenties. By then I had embarked on the voyage of denial until finally going through a very much belated and overdue transition. I am now completely the opposite of being anti-social.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  2. 2

    Rebecca Shaw said,

    Hi Jane. Flowers not owls is a nice thought, and I can definitely identify with the desperate paddling, but I’d have to challenge your reasoning on post-surgical income. Having worked all my adult life up to the point of transition, since then I have found myself outside of the workplace more often than in it! Perhaps one reason that trans-men are reporting an increase in income might simply be that men still tend to earn more than women?

    Rebecca x

    • 3

      janefae said,

      you may well be right. Although i suspect that the situation is more complex than either of us yet know.

      On the one hand, the first study i’ve seen is of trans men and yes: could just be simple sexism at work. On t’other, i’ve since come across a more general study saying similar.

      The complexity is: as a bloke, i felt i spent much of my life battling some unseen force in the workplace: as a woman now, life is just simpler. I “know my place” – and even if that means taking on a degree of disadvantage, i am operating as me, rather than someone following a script about how to be themselves. In the end, that definitely makes me happier and, had i transitioned earlier, i am pretty sure that would have done loads to make me more employable … even if the range of employment was a little more restricted, if that makes sense.


      • 4

        Rebecca Shaw said,

        Yes I get that too, but I’m too familiar with employment tribunal procedure and case law since transitioning to be entirely convinced that the argument holds true. Call me a cynic …..

  3. 5

    Dinaydiac said,

    Hey, can you ever do a post on asexuality? I think asexuals often aren’t mentioned in gender/sex discussions.

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