Possibly, possibly … Regular readers (bless you, you lovely people) will have read my earlier post touching on my devotion to the music of Richard Thompson. As I type the name I sense those with an irrational fear of the music loosely defined as folk-rock wishing to avert their eyes, but bear with me. It will all make sense and you will come to no harm.
In 1979 Thompson and his then-wife Linda released an album called Sunnyvista. It was a difficult time career-wise for the pair. They had withdrawn from the music industry in the late seventies after converting to Islam and moving to a commune in Norfolk, not a million miles from where I now live. When they returned to recording in 1978 punk had been in full swing for two years and was mutating into New Wave and for a time, they struggled to find an audience.
Sunnyvista is seen as one of their weaker albums by the cognoscenti, but despite its flaws I remain rather fond of it. Anyway, among its tracks is a rather good song called “Sisters”, a first person address from one estranged sibling to the other. I played it to death for years and on one occasion in the early eighties my then girlfriend, who by now knew that I crossdressed, remarked that she thought I liked the song because of the title, i.e. because it made me feel “girly”. Well no, I responded, I like the song ‘cos it’s a great song.
Fast forward many years later to the day when I shared my name, that is the name all know me by since transitioning, with my current partner. That was a powerful moment for both of us and I was delighted that she liked my name. A few months later however, she started saying that she knew why I had chosen Natasha – I was inspired by the character Tasha Yar she said, because of my love of Star Trek. Well, again no, although she is a feisty character and the actor who plays her, Denise Crosby, is very beautiful. In point of fact when I chose my name Tasha Yar had never occurred to me, because it never occurred to me that I would ever shorten my name (which I now happily do with friends). I have written elsewhere about the very different reasons why I chose my name (see how I am subtly cross-promoting other blog posts here, dear reader?).
In both cases, these are perhaps examples of my nearest and dearest trying to “make sense” of me. I wrote in my earlier post about how people who know me but are not close to me maybe try to do this. Those who are close to me face bigger challenges and I guess, quite reasonably, look for signs and information that will help them make sense of my transness. In both the cases above, I would argue that they reached erroneous conclusions. And yet, and yet …
I am reasonably “typical” in coming to transition later in life. Although the legal position in the UK is better for trans people, and although people do transition at a younger age – very young in a few happy cases – the average age is not really budging even though more people are seeking medical assistance. I think this says something about society’s perceptions of gender variance, and how hard it feels to become visible even with better legal and employment protection; about how difficult it is for us to come to terms with ourselves, in the deepest sense, in these circumstances; and how hard it is to dismantle the way of living many of us construct for ourselves to try and “cope” with our gender variance and carrying on living in our birth gender, which often seems, given the pressures and dangers involved, the only option.
I’ve also written about how the consequences of those pressures pushed me into a state of denial (plug, plug, pluggity plug!). Again, I am far from atypical in this respect. But now, fifteen months since transition, I ponder quite a lot about the relationship between my female identity and my male identity. This is a very tricky issue to write about, not least because the relationship, and my thinking about it, continues to change. One thing to ponder is the authenticity, or otherwise, of the male identity I chose, eventually, to walk away from. But for the moment, let’s talk about the balance of power inside my wee head, in terms of how things are now, and how they used to be.
I accepted who I am, at a deep level, in May 2008 and then started to do something about it, leading to transition in July 2009. The fact that such “milestones” exist tends to play down the complex process of personal development that leads to them, and leads away from them. At the moment, fifteen months post-transition, things are pretty good. My female identity, and my ability to feel positive about it, continue to develop and my male identity continues to diminish, although given how many years it shaped my social being and thinking I can still feel it rattling around in there. At this remove the male identity is often associated with worries, and negative thoughts. One way I sometimes think about it is that the male identity formed, at least in part, in a way that could protect the core, true female identity, but also keep it submerged, away from risky view. Whether the male identity was therefore ever “genuine”, despite the fact I lived as male for decades, is a very complex question which a blog is ill-suited to contend with. See me in the bar later.
I suppose the key distinction in how different things feel might be described as follows:
- In the present I am increasingly confident as a woman and feel myself allowing some habitual behaviour and thought processes I had as male recede and fall away. Natasha does not need to “protect” the male self, I can let him fade, while retaining those elements I still value.
- As a young person I became confident enough to function successfully as male, but part of that was suppressing and repressing my true self, which involved a lot of effort and stress. However successful I became in other regards, I kept having to suppress Natasha, to categorize her and put her away, hidden on a dusty shelf.
For me therefore, rather than the upfront relationship to the song “Sisters” that my ex-girlfriend inferred, it was a much more shadowy and uneasy relationship with manifestations of femaleness as I encountered them. As it happens I love Linda Thompson’s voice, not just because she’s a great singer but because there is a kind of raw, tender undertone in some of her performances. I think as a younger listener I understood that in part as being about her openness of emotion and openness about being female, and responded to it very deeply, but almost had to suppress my response as soon as I felt it, or make it about something else. Her struggle could not be my struggle.
But guess what, it was and is. I have always been female but now, thank God, I can own those feelings, not push them down, aside, out of the way. Every day that sense of self feels new, exciting and presents new challenges and opportunities. As a younger person, it was the singers, not the songs, that I held on to, even while I hid my feelings, even to myself. Thank goodness those strong, female voices were there for me growing up, raised in song. Finally, tentatively but increasingly strongly, my voice can join theirs.