The country I live in is preparing for an election. As a non-citizen, I cannot vote, but since I live here, the results will certainly effect me. Especially all the competing proposals to make life harder for immigrants and would-be immigrants. Still, I’m not going to tell anybody how to vote, although I do think a hung parliament might help keep them out of trouble. Instead, I want to share a story.
Ten years ago, in my home country, we had a couple of tossers standing for election. They both went to the same sort of schools. They both had fathers who had held high offices. They both had major connections to oil companies. They both had all the personality of plaster. It was tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum. It seemed not to matter which got in. One was coming from a supposedly more left party, which had done all kinds of horrible right wing things while in office and had widened the gap between rich and poor and had done a lot of bombing overseas. The other came from a somewhat farther right party which had an alarmingly bad record from its time in power in the 1980’s.
Still, there wasn’t all that much difference between the published platforms of the parties. One of them seemed to hate LGBT people slightly less than the other. One seemed to care a tiny bit more for poor folks (not that you’d be able to tell from the 8 years immediately preceding). In short, aside from empty words, it seemed like voting would be an utter waste of time. “Don’t vote!” we said, “It will only encourage them!”
As it happened, the slightly more right wing candidate got into office and it turned out that he was a bit more right than he had represented himself. Indeed, he was George W. Bush
“If voting changed anything it would be illegal” is only half true. Voting is perfectly legal because it allows a way to put a stamp of public approval on sociopathic policies that harm the general public. The structure of western democracy is such that you cannot actually ever seem to vote for anything good. You can only vote against things that are bad. Because the political process is controlled by the rich and powerful, only things they like are ever going to come up for a vote at all. The power of the masses resides in our numbers. We can take to the streets and demand things. Our needs and wants are raised via activism, not via voting.
This, however, should not construed to mean that voting is a waste of time. You cannot vote in positive change, but it’s possible to vote in negative change. Ergo, voting is not an expression of hope and change, but of damage control. Essential, important damage control. It’s a grim, ugly and strategic business. You do it because you’ve got to do it. Because you love your country. Out of a sense of responsibility; no matter how ugly or evil it is, you’ve got to prevent George Bush-like disasters from befalling you and your countrymen.

The NHS said yes

On monday, I had my second appointment with the gender clinic at Charing Cross (which moved to Hammersmith in 1973). The doctor tried a bit too hard to be charming as he asked me all the same questions as I’ve been asked innumerable times.
He wanted to know my family tree. Do I have any LGBT family members? What’s my first memory of gender issues? At what age did I leave school? Do I have any friends? (Would they lend me £20 if I asked?) Do I take drugs? Etc etc etc
He also asked me the last time I wore a dress. “That includes weddings and funerals.” I can’t remember. I know I put one on occasionally as a joke at Mills. Nicole said it made me look like a footballer in drag for a comedy skit. As it happens, I’m not really into cross-dressing, and I’m not really genderqueer these days. But the question is troubling for transmen who do like to drag it up a bit. It’s even more alarming for those dealing with intense family pressures. Do we want to force people into being ostracized so they can get the treatment they need? I don’t know what would have happened if I’d said less than 2 years rather than guessing 15.
But, as it worked out, he said I will be having top surgery “rather quickly.”!!!!! As soon as my PCT approves the funding. I asked if being here on a student visa was going to be an issue and he pointed out that they were already paying for me to talk to him. He said that the primary concern of doctors is what’s best for their patients and described the NHS as a vast left-wing conspiracy.
This was one of those moments when I really love Britain. God bless the NHS! The good doctor also suggested that I become British. I’d love to.

Advice for Migrant Trans People in the UK

The doctor also gave me a very useful bit of advice, that I need to double-check with my university, but which sounds very good. He said that I could change my name in the UK and put off changing my name at home until it’s feasible. He says there is no problem having one legal name and gender in one country and a different name and gender in another. I need to verify that I can still get my uni to give me the right forms to extend my student visa, but I think their non-discrimination statement for trans people means they will be willing to deal with the two names problem.
Of course, it’s not ideal to carry around a US passport with name change documents. What I need is government-issued ID, ideally with the right name and gender. He told me that I can apply for a provisional drivers liscence. I do not need to learn to drive, it’s basically a permit to learn which doubles as a photo ID. He said he knew of a blind person who had one. It stays valid for years and counts as proof of legal residency and can be used as a travel document (instead of a passport) within the EU. He is going to post me a letter which I can use to get the correct gender markers.
I don’t know if I’m happiest for finding out I’m getting top surgery or for finding there’s an easy solution to my paperwork disaster. I’m also wondering if I can use British documents to bluster my way through getting stuff changed in the US. To change my name in Alameda County, California, I need to publish a notice in the newspaper and then get on a 4+ month waiting list to appear in person, in court. It would be a hassle if I wasn’t abroad. Changing my gender on my US passport is even more of a hassle, to the point whre I think becoming a British citizen might even be easier.

Gig Report: The Globe in Brighton

Helen’s Evil Twin had a gig with Danse Macabre last night in Brighton. These two bands often tour together because Taylor and Helen play in both of them. We played at the Globe in Brighton, which is a small, friendly pub, near the sea.
The drum kit and several folks came down in a vehicle affectionately known as Camper Van Helsgin, which is an old VW minibus that does not have heat in it. They showed up shivering and then unloaded all the gear. There were sound check and the normal stuff. HET was on first. I always write out chord changes on my set list because when I get nervous, I cannot remember things well. At least my hands weren’t shaking – not that it’s a bad effect on a fretless bass. I made more mistakes than I would in a rehearsal, but it was mostly ok. At the end, there was a guy yelling for more. Yay for happy people. I like playing in a band!
While DM was on, the snow began falling in earnest and settling. (Brits say “settling.” Americans say “sticking.”) I looked out the window and saw giant snowflakes blowing sideways. Yikes. DM played many of the same songs from the last time I saw them in Worchester, several of which are on their disk the Golden Age of Ballooning. They were a bit tighter than last time and more in tune. Also, Steph, their bassist has gotten an electric upright bass. It sounds really really good. Apparently, she just got it, so only played it for a few songs. I think she might be just learning it? Her hand positions look self-taught, but her sound says she known what she’s doing.
After the show we packed up ASAP and then did some car shuffling to get everybody dropped as close to where they live as possible. DM has a strong trans following, mostly mtf. (Alas, HET does not yet have a dedicated ftm fan base.) So I ended up in the van of a fan as we set out on the frozen snowy roads.
We stopped to buy hot drinks and use the loo at a petrol station outside of Brighton, but they sold out of everything as we arrived. Alas. I think that’s where I dropped my phone.
I thought the snow would get worse as we went north, but instead it lightened up until there was nothing settling in London. So I got home to Xena in one piece. Down a mobile phone, but fun anyway.
Speaking of which, I hadn’t been able to get my phone to sync with my computer for weeks, so I may have lost your number. If you think I should have your number, please email it to me.

Gig Report: Worcester Music Festival

On Friday afternoon, Ash Surrey of Danse Macabre and her partner came and picked up me and Hoops of Helen’s Evil Twin. We set off for the Worcester Music Festival where both our bands played gigs. Worcester is in the Midlands, somewhere near Birmingham. The rural area around it, the shire, is, of course Worcestershire, and is the region where Worcestershire sauce originates. Alas, it usually contains anchovies, so I did not eat any of it while away.
Anyway, Friday afternoon traffic on the M25 is a drag and we arrived in the evening and met up with the remaining members of HET and Danse Macabre. They came separately in a 70’s-era VW minibus, which apparently has been on many music tours. The van is affectionately known as Camper van Helsing, a joke that never stops being funny.
After checking in to the Travel Lodge, we went out to drink and catch some live music. The festival organizers went to just about every bar and café in central Worcester and asked them if they would host live musicians for three days and not charge admission. Every event was free and there were many participating venues. The one we went to was the one HET was to play the following night, the Marr’s Bar. On Friday night, the BBC was there broadcasting live. They had a big canvas BBC banner on the wall behind the stage, ringed by fairy lights and posters up explaining that this was all live on the radio.
One guy that was playing was Nigel Clark, a Brummie who was a member of the 90’s pop band Dodgy. They were very popular in the UK, but I don’t think I’d heard of them in the states. He was quite good. I like his music a lot and his stage chatter was also very entertaining. He explained he was going to leave the curse words out of one of his songs due to the radio broadcast. And on one of his songs, during the intro he said that all the home listeners would be wondering why so many people in the bar were talking while he was playing (the background chatter level was kind of typical for a bar) and he improvised a verse about not talking during the performance. The room fell very quiet. It was nicely done.
I was really excited about the BBC being there, but they only do live broadcasts on Friday nights and would not be back for our gig, alas. After the music was over, we went back to the hotel and got drunk and then started horsing around with ukuleles and other instruments until about 2 AM. I felt kind of guilty about this, but I think that we didn’t keep anybody else awake. I hope.
We woke up kind of late Saturday morning and after breakfast went to Danse Macabre’s venue. They’re a goth band. Their drummer is Helen of HET and they have the same violinist as HET, but their own bassist and lead singer. The lead singer put on black renaisance faire trousers and ruffly white shirt and a black jacket and top hat and a lot of skull-related jewelry, including a large, sparkly skull belt buckle. She put on black lipstick and all that. Watching her transform from slightly eccentric street clothes to goth was kind of amazing.
They played some songs from their album “The Golden Age of Ballooning” and a song about Worcestershire sauce, which included such facts as the inventor of it and the typical ingredients. And they played some songs from a rock opera about evil squirrels. The subject matter was very eclectic.
We hung around for one more act, which was Smiley Mic, a guy with some looping pedals, making pop music by looping himself. He was was musically very good, but his lyrics all tended to be about how he was one guy laying down loops. Then we went to Marr’s Bar for HET’s sound check.
The bar has a really good stage, a great PA and a good sound guy. I had my own monitor speaker. We did the sound check and it was amazing because we could actually hear each other, which is not something that happens often on stage. I was kind of nervous, but we were on second and so the audience was people who came with us and other bands waiting to sound check and that was it. The first guy was on for maybe 10 minutes and was really good. I had a bunch of mistakes when we actually played and didn’t feel good about it, but the rest of the band was very happy. While I was putting my bass away, a bloke from the audience approached Helen and started talking enthusiastically about how great we were. I guess it doesn’t matter that I forgot the bassline to our song summarizing Jane Eyre?
I caught another band, who was also very cool and then left to get some food and then put my bass back into the hotel and caught the last few bands of the evening, on 4 and 5 hours after we started. The crowd had grown a lot. The last band, And What Will Be Left of Them, was playing their last-ever gig and they and the audience were both getting kind of emotional about it. Understandable as they were really good. Actually, all of the Worcester and Midlands-based bands on were really good. Really fun, really musically strong. Worcester is cool.
So I was highly impressed by the Worcester music scene. I suspect we will play there again and will probably also play in Birmingham and Manchester around December and January when we expect to be selling our album. Anybody who wants a rock band to play a show and then kip in their house around that time is highly encouraged to leave a comment or drop a line, because free lodging really helps with the going-into-debit thing that can be a downside of touring.
On Sunday, we headed back into London. I arrived at my flat in the afternoon, too burnt to do much but veg out. I’m quite enjoying the rock and roll life style, but my next major task needs to be to really really memorize the nine songs on our set list. I’ve got them, but not as solidly not-having-to-think-about-it as I’d like. And then, our set list should grow longer as things get recorded. Also, some of the songs could use better basslines, which requires time and thought and stuff, something I should be able to manage before our next gig on the 25 of September in Whitechapel.
My personal next gig is not with the rock band, but is a noise music thing coming up on Wednesday at the Foundry in London. I’ll be playing my synthesizer. Starts at 7pm. I don’t know what time I’ll be on, but it’s free. In the basement.


British people keep telling me I’m very polite. In fact, my girlfriend complained that I’m too polite. I keep thinking this would be a shocking revelation to people at home, who seem to have rather the opposite idea about me. I’ve come up with a few possible reasons for this change:
Dry humor. The British sense of humor involves a lot of sarcasm. Maybe they’re all saying this because it’s not true. Alas.
I’ve changed. Maybe with age I’ve gained a bit of tact and whatnot?
Cultural differences. Maybe Americans just have much higher standards than Brits. Also, I’m not exactly hanging out with the royal family. And, to be fair, it seems they would have even lower standards.
Gendered expectations. It’s possible that people expect a lot less from men than women. Or perhaps what they expect is just different and I did not conform to the standard female model and my laxish manners are good enough for blokes? I find this explanation both likely and annoying. Casual sexism is bad, people!
Anyway, none of this pondering matters to those of you who remember the good old days when I used to run around in my underwear while belching as loudly as possible. Ah, good times. I miss them.

Thanksgiving in England

Happy Thanksgiving from a land where they’ve barely heard of the Holiday!

I was feeling really crap about it this morning. Every place I’ve lived previously, I’ve had a few Americans around in my social group and so I’ve always had a small gathering for Thanksgiving. This year, though, I haven’t been actively seeking out expats in years past. Natively speaking the local language makes it much less urgent and I just haven’t bothered. But no close American friends seemed to mean no Thanksgiving.

However, Paula, who is British, remembered that it was a holiday for me. She lived in Tehran for years, so, although she doesn’t know anything about Thanksgiving, she knows what it’s like to live someplace where Christmas isn’t celebrated, so she told me to come over.

We went to the local grocery sore and got some food items. There is no tofurkey in this country (something to be thankful for), so we found an acceptable local substitute. We had fake turkey escalopes, mashed parsnips, string beans, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin pie.

In the finest tradition of Thanksgiving, we set the stuffing on fire. Ok, my grandma used to burn the rolls, but it’s similar. A pan was blindly jammed into the oven, causing the stuffing to fall off the back of the rack and directly into the fire. We ate it anyway. It was a bit . . . dry.

There was also pumpkin pie, which I explained was traditional. Paula said that she had pie tins, and I had a baked pumpkin at the ready. Her pie tin was square. One makes do when one is overseas. Adapts to local customs and the like. Also, there’s a terrible math joke this in that sometimes pi r square.

Square Pie
Paula was similarly gobsmacked that one would put pumpkin in a pudding, which is the British term for dessert. Then we watched some episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I feel much better now than I did a few hours ago.

Further Adventures with the NHS

I went today for a psychiatric assessment. I spend a lot of time being evaluated, alas. This one was at a Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust medical center. It seemed like most of the other people there were for more body-focused medical stuff. It didn’t have the kind of security that Dutch mental health centers have. Indeed, the doors opened automatically as I approached.
My appointment letter was for “Ms Celeste,” which is better than Miss, at least. The receptionist looked at the letter and looked at me and asked who the appointment was for. I said my name. She looked at me a long second and then said ok and told me to sit.
The shrink was youngish. He had a student sitting in, a man about my age. I said I was ok with that. “Just ignore him” said the shrink. Right.
He had me go on and on about my childhood. Which, frankly, is not that interesting. Any fascinating memoir of my life would start later. I mean, the first time a gender shrink asks you about your childhood, you get to construct a narrative of yourself in regards to gender. Did you always know something was different? Were you blissfully unaware? Did others point out locations of difference that you didn’t see for yourself? All of this tempered by the understanding that the receiver of said narrative is a hurdle between you and hormones/surgery/whatever you’ve come for.
So I banged out a narrative for an hour about how I’m a totally reasonable sane person. He wasn’t a gender specialist, so when I said FTM, he asked what that stood for. So gender issues weren’t even that present in the conversation. He did use the phrase “Gender Identity Disorder” though, and it got my hackles up a bit.
I don’t like being called disordered. At all. The catholic church calls homosexuality “intrinsically disordered,” which is a value judgment that I’m not keen on either. Why must every location of difference be called a disorder? Could it be a condition instead? Some other medical phrase? I’m proud of who I am. Indeed, to be different means that you have to be proud or be crushed. My identity is not a disorder, it’s just atypical.
Then funding came up. He asked me when my student visa expires and started talking about “planned elective surgery.” Which, I mean, Tower Hamlets is not awash in cash. It’s one of the poorest boroughs in London. Why should they allocate their tax money to a foreign student? I don’t know how NHS funding works, but it seems to be geographically divided. Are the residents of Tower Hamlets the main funding source for their primary care trust? Or does it come out of a large pot and then is distributed by population?
In order to change my documents in California, I need to get top surgery. Also, to be able to go swimming or wear a T shirt ever again in my life. So if the NHS won’t fund it, I can . . . wait or self-fund. I don’t think it’s reasonable to try to get it too far from where I’m actually living, so surgery in California is not a good plan unless I move back there. It’s possible for people in the UK to “go private” which means pay themselves for stuff rather than wait for the NHS to decide to pay for it. I have no idea how much this would cost here, nor if it would effect them covering my T prescriptions or anything else. Aside from whether or not I could afford it, there’s issues about recovery time. It’s long. I won’t be able to lift things for weeks. This sort of situation requires close friends and I’ve only lived here since August. So even if I got NHS funding, it still might not be a reasonable plan. So maybe I’m destined to wait years no matter what.
When I do get it, if I still have savings, the first thing I’m going to do is buy the bike jersey I’ve been wanting, which I so can’t wear right now.

The Transsexual Industry

In the UK, the largest LGB* rights organization is called Stonewall. You’ll note I didn’t say “LGBT.”** They don’t say it either. They’re a lot like the HRC in the States.
They’re about to have an awards banquet where they’re going to recognize various people who they feel are good for the LGB community. One of the people nominated is a journalist named Julie Bindel, who is a Radical Feminist*** lesbian who writes for the Guardian. Like most radfems, her writings on trans issues are often transphobic. She has written transphobic things in her column in a major newspaper. Trans activists are displeased that Stonewall wants to honor this writing.
Alas, I am not talking about subtle differences in opinion. She has used slurs and thinks that trans people shouldn’t have access to hormones or surgery, saying, “Sex change surgery is unnecessary mutilation.” While she’s apologized for past slurs, the other stuff she hasn’t. She recently issued a statement about the controversy, which does not back away from those positions. (Indeed, the quote above is from it.) Instead, she says, “I am the victim of an organised group of bullies who seek to discredit me and silence any radical feminist debate around the issue of GID**** and of the transsexual industry.”
The transsexual industry? Does she imagine that trans people are some kind of profit center for the NHS? That’s as mad as making claims about the “abortion industry” in the US! In fact, it’s almost exactly identical.
Earlier in her statement, she talks a lot about Claudia, somebody who had SRS and then regretted it. She writes,

In 1985, after a consultation with Reid that lasted only 45 minutes, Claudia was diagnosed as transsexual and referred for surgery. . .. In May 2007 after a case lasting three years, the General Medical Council’s disciplinary committee ruled that Reid had prescribed hormones to five of his patients too soon, and referred them for genital surgery without properly assessing their mental and physical suitability. . . .. [G]etting to know Claudia was the catalyst for me in deciding to research the hidden side of sex change surgery, namely the validity of the original diagnosis of GID, and the stories of those who regret taking the hormones and having the surgery.

In the States, anti-choice activists claim that there is an abortion industry, where woman-hating male doctors cajole their patients into having abortions which leave them mentally and physically scarred for life. They mention the cases of some unhappy women who wish they hadn’t done it. They bring up some doctors who have faced discipline for unethical acts. Based on this, they argue that abortion is harming women and ought to be made illegal.
Bindel is using the same argument. And this betrays a fundamental truth about her perspective. Anti-choicers want to remove agency from women, so they imagine that somebody else has already done so. They see themselves as guardians of a helpless and contemptible class of people. Similarly, Bindel imagines that trans people have no agency and should not be allowed control over their own bodies. Like anti-choicers, she imagines a sinister “industry,” eager to prey upon weak victims who fall into their clutches.
And yet, in both cases, most of the people who utilize these “industries” don’t see themselves as victims at all, but as agents empowered to take advantage of what was a hard-won right. I would like to imagine that the parallels in argument would give any feminist pause, but as right wingers have happily co-opted language from the left to paint themselves as victims, I can’t imagine anyone of any political stripe would be above borrowing language and arguments form their ideological enemies. If painting others as victims works for your cause, then you would use it. I’d hope that the agency-denying aspect of the argument would give leftists pause, but, alas, this gets into a larger critique of radical feminism.
If seeing trans people as full adults won’t work, maybe she’ll note that medical malpractice is a real issue, but when somebody has their spleen unnecessarily removed, we don’t condemn all spleen surgery as a result. But if logic doesn’t work for anti-choice activists, it won’t work on their ideological twin. After all, there’s a sinister industry afoot.
* Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual.
** T is for transgender or transsexual or other gender minorities.
*** Not the fun kind
**** Gender Identity Disorder is the diagnosis used to give hormones and whatnot to trans people want them.

I might as well be trying to move to Mars

I’ve called or emailed more than 30 landlords. I’ve called 10 or 15 letting agents. I’ve seen two flats, both of which silently rejected me. I’ve got an appointment to see one more. My existing rental contract runs out in 10 days.
The most productive conversation I had today was with a letting agent that suggested I give Xena away. Right. I’m going to give up my loving companion so I can have a shitty studio.
Brits have a reputation for being a nation of dog lovers. But when I think about it, the only people who say that are, themselves, British. No foreigner ever remarks on how beloved pets are. In fact, most Brits seem to be afraid of dogs. If they’re not afraid of being bitten, they’re afraid of some other, unspecified evil. Dogs smell bad. They shed. They might chew things. They might spontaneously burst into flame and destroy the entire neighborhood as they run around setting it on fire.
French people – they love dogs. The Dutch are fond of dogs. Brits? They wet themselves in terror. Which should not be surprising as that seems to be their response to anything slightly out of the ordinary. I cannot believe that these are the same people who beat the Nazis. I think that evil Nazi scientists must have introduced a mutation into the British gene pool which causes a general inability to cope with anything.
I don’t know why I think it would be better to live in London than Brum. It will still be in this fucking country. Sure, they have the NHS and Doctor Who and an active squat scene, but just because their infrastructure is slightly less dismantled than US infrastructure . . . well, I mean, at least America is full of Americans. We might be all a bunch of fucking cowboys, but cowboys can cope with shit. Also, cowboys like dogs.
My budget for a studio is now greater than my mortgage payments were for my house in Berkeley. And I probably won’t find anything. I’ll be lucky to find anything even if I stay in Brum. It was only a fluke that I got this place and it’s sort of falling apart and it’s the best that I’ll ever be able to do in this fucking little country.

Edit: 21 June 2008

I deeply regret any pro-cowboy comments that I’ve made.

Seeking London Lodging

I’m currently combing the internets looking at flatmate listings for London. I hope to find LGBT-friendly folks someplace fairly central that will take my dog and I for £110/week or less. This is more than double what I’m paying now and I’ll have to also ride trains a lot more. And yet, it’s still definitely on the low end of what’s out there. I have faith, though. Somebody will be taken with my dog or that I have a recipe for cactus chili (somebody was recently kind of amazed when I talked about eating prickly pear leaves, so you never know).
My queer-focussed ad says:

I’m a 32 year old ftm looking for London housing starting by July 1. I’ve been transitioning for about 6 months. Before that I was a dyke. I’m a post-grad student, with a dog. She’s an 8 year old lab mix. Friendly but reserved. She is old and spends all her indoor time sleeping and would not require any attention from you. She gets on very well with other dogs and has lived well with cats before (she’s overly curious at first, but soon returns to her sleepy state).

I’m looking for a home with some communal space and queer or queer-friendly housemates. I’m from California originally and like to think of myself as relaxed and easy to get on with. I’ve spent the last 3 years abroad and plan to live in England for the next 2 or 3 years while getting my PhD. I like to play music, but I’m not loud. I don’t mind if you are.

Feel free to contact me at or to pass along my information to your friends who need a housemate.

I really don’t want to have to be stealth in my home. Some of my mail gets addressed to Miss or Ms. I recently told my cable company representative that my bank had mistakenly listed me as “miss” because they thought I had a girl’s name. This story is apparently believable – different cultures/countries do gender names differently, but it wouldn’t explain why my former landlords were all using the wrong pronouns. So I don’t know how much choice I have about being out – not that I want to live in fear of being found out.
Part of what was nice about being in Holland is that I was kind of just a regular person again for a while. It would be nice to be like that more of the time.