CROATIA SKETCHES 2 // Dubrovnik

29 Aug, 1pm.
I swim in the sea. This is something my mediterranean friends have told me to do. Nebulous medical benefits aside I had intended on it, if the opportunity presented itself, from the beginning. Swimming in the Adriatic has had a kind of unattainable lustre in my mind for the last ten or so years. I’d been on a trip, a cruise, around Italy with my mother. We stopped – possibly for tax or customs reasons, in Croatia for a day or two. I have a memory – I had thought this was in Dubrovnik when I booked my holiday but I realise now it may have been Split – the clearest memory of the whole trip, of dangling my feet in clear, impossibly blue water. Some extrermely tanned German kids were swimming in a cordoned section of the sea on the other side of the jetty I was sitting on. Oh how I wanted to join them. But our time was nearly up and I had no swimsuit.
Since then I’ve had a lasting fixation with clear blue water lapping against stone, unmediated by sand. This image has followed me even out of waking, I’ve had dreams of pristine travertine edifices facing onto a churning turquoise sea.
I ease myself into the water at this beach fronted by a luxury hotel. No one stopped me accessing the beach, and clearly not everyone swimming is a guest there, but my cough and the general strange paleness of my body marks me out as an interloper. The water is the perfect temperature, but there are currents and I cannot draw enough breath to keep myself afloat. I tread water and paddle around like the invalid I am, my breath coming in gasps. I manage five or ten minutes before I must get out, and then coughing takes me. But I can feel myself healing as I take the waters.

30 Aug, 4.30pm.
Went kayaking in the sea today. Not much to say about it but that it was exactly what I wanted. By some miracle I avoided a coughing fit for the whole three hours. It is only now that I have sat down to dinner that I begin.  Perhaps I am like a shark, I’m at my most robust while moving. Perhaps that is why nights are so difficult.
As I write I’m having prawns in garlic and risotto with cuttlefish ink, and a glass of local white. I had a coughing fit at my table between two other couples, and asked the waiter if, because I felt I was disturbing them, I could move to a different table. When I said this none of them disputed it, so it must have been true. This cough is making me obtrusive. I’m used to being able to go unnoticed if I want. This is not possible now.

CROATIA SKETCHES 1 // leaving Edinburgh

29 Aug, 3am.
I awake surprisingly easily. This cough has been making sleep a matter of extreme self discipline, akin to meditation. I’ve been waking at all hours, sleeping at most for stretches of six hours. I’m not exhausted, either, which surprises me.
I shut the door to my flat behind me, trying not to think of what I may have forgotten. As I walk down Clerk St in the dark there are still people about. I had forgotten this was the last day of the fringe. These people have not gone to bed. I nod good morning and they look back at me, suspicious or guilty. The kinship of the hour is not enough to negate the strangeness of it. Nonetheless, their presence comforts the traveller in me. I am not alone. I am a pilgrim and they are my silent guides.

29 Aug, 4.40am.
I’m at the airport. I’m still hawking up gobbets of yellow phlegm. They’re surprisingly solid and sit, foreign and complacent on my tongue until I can spit them discretely into a square of toilet roll. I’ve come prepared.
The effects of the cocodamol are less pronounced than I would have hoped. But still I cling to the idea of it like a lifeline. With the cocodamol I can walk and talk and carry my backpack and that is all I need right now. I must remember to get change for the bus when the plane lands in Dubrovnik.

 

Writing While Trans: my transition and my writing

It’s an objective fact that I’m a better writer now than I was three years ago, before I started my transition. But why? Is correlation causation? Have I just been getting better as I’ve gotten older and read and written more? Or is there a connection between living as my authentic self, demanding things for myself that I knew objectively I needed, and my ability to render thought and feeling on paper?

In this essay I want to think about how the development of my self as a person relates to the development of my skills as a writer.

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borrowed from Frederik Rubensson

The first parallel that comes to mind is the element of rejection, or rather, fear of rejection. Any serious writer has had to come to terms with rejection and learn to work around it, to steady one’s hands and quell that urge to shut one’s laptop and give up writing forever at the first sign of criticism.

Similarly, coming out as trans (however ‘soft’ the launch of my new gender presentation might have been) was an exercise in building up emotional calluses. This fear is something that I can say categorically every trans person, out or not, has had to deal with at one point or another, and it’s something that I have had to overcome at the same time as I began undergoing hormone replacement therapy.

It’s simply impossible to live one’s life in constant fear of being ridiculed, castigated or alienated for one’s gender presentation. This isn’t to say that plenty of people don’t have to deal with this anyway: I don’t doubt there are hundreds if not thousands of trans people whose lives are still delimited by just these fears. I’ve been lucky enough to have friends and family supportive enough to convince me that the self I felt comfortable presenting was authentic and therefore valid. I’m still a bit frightened of large white cisgender men but I can look them in the eye from out of this small, weird body, and suffer their looks back.

Back to writing, then. Despite the fact that I have and do use writing as an escape from the trials of living inside my self, it’s incontrovertible fact that my writer self is my transgender self. There cannot not be a connection, since my writing and my gender identity are arguably my two most important qualities.

One of the most essential qualities for a writer is the ability to observe the world around oneself, so as later to recreate it in various forms on the page: one has to process all one’s experiences through an added filter (or perhaps this is only my experience, but I don’t think so). Similarly, a prominent (at least for me) feature of the “transgender experience” has been a heightened awareness of my surroundings, specifically how the people around me are reacting to the self I’m presenting to them. It’s not really even a conscious thing, but it’s something I notice if I’m careful and, honestly, it’s something I’m trying to train myself out of. At least, I’m happy being aware but hyperawareness carries with it a modicum of anxiety I’d very much like to be rid of. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that I am both more observant and more empathetic since beginning my transition.

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borrowed from Etienne

I’ve heard it said (by myriad spurious sources) that the best writers all had unhappy childhoods. I think for the most part this is nonsense. But I do think that ostracism from one social group or another, so often the defining feature of an unhappy childhood, is something that most transgender people deal with, sooner or later. It’s something that gives those children or people beginning their transition an outsider’s – and, I think, an observer’s – perspective.

I think what this all comes down to is the way being a writer, or being transgender, attunes one to the emotions (passive or active) of others, and makes one a more sensitive observer of the world. It’s much harder for someone who is constantly checking themself to ignore the world around them, and I’m thankful that I have writing as an outlet – I’ve often said when confronted by an unpleasant experience, ‘at least I can write about this.’

 

Hello! If you’ve read this far, thanks! I hope you liked my post. You may know that I’m working on crowdfunding a book called Pride, Not Prejudice, along with several other transgender writers. Crowdfunding means that we depend on individual pledges from people like you – people who are interested in transgender issues, or even just in expanding their own awareness – to make sure the book gets published. I’d really appreciate if you took the time to check out our crowdfunding page here, share it with your friends and family, and, of course, pledge for a special edition hardback copy of the book! There is also a discount code available for trans people whose income is being put towards their transition. If you’d like the code, contact me and I’ll send it to you!

 

Animate Prose and the Sculpture of Language: The Vorrh, a review.

Brian Catling’s The Vorrh (2012, Honest Publishing) has been on my radar for a long time. I’d never heard quite the right things said of it to make me take that last step into actually reading it, that is, until last month, when I found out Catling will be visiting Blackwell’s bookshop in Edinburgh. His visit will coincide with the release of the sequel to The Vorrh, The Erstwhile (in March, details here). Eager for the chance to go to an event for a book I’d actually read, I borrowed a copy from my flatmate and got to work. Continue reading

Painting With Broad Strokes: Grace of Kings, a review.

I picked up Grace of Kings (Ken Liu, Simon & Schuster, 2015) originally because I was enticed by the idea of an epic high-fantasy story not set in a thinly-veiled version of western Europe. The setting of Grace of Kings is a refreshing blend of ancient China and Polynesia, and the un-Europeanness of the story is apparent from the very first page, with an elaborate culture and social hierarchy laid out in clear terms, and sustained throughout the book. Continue reading

Don’t Kill the Messenger: The End of the Day, a review.

First of all, happy holidays and new year to all of you! I’m reading something new for the new year. I got this copy of Claire North‘s The End of the Day (Orbit, April 2017) from work, our fiction buyer handing it to me and saying “can you read this for me please?”. I was sceptical, usually the proofs that get fobbed off on me (with some notable exceptions) aren’t that great (simply by the rules of trickle-down economics, I usually receive the dregs). I’m happy to say that this book is another exception to that rule. Continue reading