Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Interview with Andie Davidson

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Andie Davidson, a publisher, writer, blogger, musician and author of "Realisations" (2012). Hello Honey!
Andie: Hi Monika, it’s great to join you here, and in such company.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Andie: No! I talk far too much! But I can try. I live on the south coast of the UK and work as a technical writer in an engineering company. I was married for over 30 years and have two grown up children. I’m recently divorced, but happy to have found my true self after 55 years ignorance and another couple of years sorting it out.
Monika: You are the author of the collection of poems titled “Realisations” (2012). What inspired you to become a poet?
Andie: Hmm. That’s interesting. Maybe like “becoming a woman” one doesn’t. I just am, but only took writing seriously when the transgender light dawned. Being made redundant three years ago in 2011 was a catalyst for everything – and gave me time to think.
I just desperately needed to write my way through the emotions of self-discovery and the impact of it, in a way that might subvert the ordinary conversation that simply hits opinions head on before inner dialogue can take place.
Her first poetry collection:
Realisations (Amazon), 2012
Monika: Is there anything like transgender art? What does it mean to be a transgendered artist?
Andie: Art is observation, and we all see the world differently. But transgendered people have a perspective that others don’t. We notice things such as ambiguities and false certainties through gender, and as artists realize we can extend that to the wider world. That can make our art really interesting rather than purely descriptive, and be used to provoke a response that brings new realizations in others.
My experience in writing openly as transgendered was that I was suddenly much more daring in speaking my truth and throwing it into an unsuspecting world. I then suspected that it might be difficult to understand without a background, so added section introductions as scene-setters into my poetry collection.
Ever since, I have questioned whether my writing is clear enough for those with a narrower perspective, or whether I am too subtle. I think that so long as you don’t get too self-obsessed about your message, you can speak a much broader language and become much richer and more nuanced from being transgendered. I find I write poems now that are dense with meaning for me that simply pass over the heads of non-trans people.
So if anything, being a transgendered artist or writer is to work from a privileged position of seeing everything differently. Non-trans people can never do that, however good their imagination. When you have stood amongst men when no women are present, and amongst women when no men are present, you have witnessed unguarded self uniquely equally.
Monika: Has your transition influenced they way you write your poetry?
Andie: I did write some before, through emotional times, but it was sporadic and far from crafted. Poetry can also be pretentious, imitating other poets. Mine was!
My transition was as raw and authentic as it gets, and I wanted my writing to be that as well. Discovering what it means to be born transsexual was overwhelming, because it was unavoidable and was not up for discussion. You can’t negotiate your authenticity, and poetry was a way of being brutally direct whilst being a bit more gentle about it. That meant I had to learn to write in a way that leads rather than pushes, so that the truth of what I was saying became self-evident rather than being an argument with proofs.
The best poetry is full of “show not tell”, which was what I was trying to do at first about my gender, so it felt very appropriate to learn the real craft of poetry. I worked with a poet-mentor for a year. In hindsight I can see how much of my writing was about trying to capture other people’s perspectives of transgendered people erupting into their lives, so it was about me, but it taught me to observe self (hence the subtitle of my blog).
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Andie: I felt I was different from the age of five, but I had no explanation for it. By the time I hit puberty, with the help of a religious cultural background and a taboo-sensitive family, I knew it was something unspeakable and bad. So by adolescence I was into evangelical Christianity and pretty screwed up inside! I had girlfriends, because they were attractive but also, I can see now, so that I could be much more intimate with feeling female. But no-one else knew my secret.
Starting out in 2011, her first style.
I married at 25, revealing very little of my secret, but felt safe enough hoping it might all go away; whatever ‘it’ was. I just didn’t know that people could be born transgendered and that this could be diagnosed, and that it felt like this. I left doctrinal religion behind at about the same age, but still knew I had this wicked side to me that no-one must find out about, because I would be rejected as disgusting or perverted.
It was only in desperate searching of the Internet in 2010, at the age of 55, that I discovered that being transgendered wasn’t anything to do with sexual preferences. I knew it wasn’t a sexual thing for me, but that had been the only image I’d been presented with all my life. It clicked and suddenly I knew I could be alright. 
It was a shock to my wife, but we read all the right books together to understand it, and ended up going to therapy together for a while. To a degree I had her support, and we did go around together as two women for about a year.
I think she understood reasonably well what gender dysphoria meant, but it didn’t mean she was at all comfortable living intimately with a woman. I was racing ahead and she was confused. In the end she just didn’t want to be married to a woman, and I had to leave for my own emotional security. It was making me suicidal to live with the emotional rejection. Did she support me? In some ways, yes, and I am just glad she wasn’t antagonistic. But welcoming? Definitely not.
My daughter stopped talking to me three years ago, has never even been in the same room as me since transition, left home to join her boyfriend soon after, and I haven’t seen or heard from her since. In contrast, my son had a transgendered friend so it was never an issue for him.
I was fortunate to find a support group in Brighton (UK) that I could attend while out of employment for that critical year. It normalized my experience and gave me the courage to do what had to be done, and I was able to find out what to do in practical terms. Without them I’d have been quite lost and fearful, and transition would have taken longer and been a lot harder.
I lost all the family friends, mainly other couples, but as a musician I was involved every week with maybe 150 other musicians. There was no way I could creep in one day dressed in women’s clothes, though it might have finally explained the nail varnish and earrings! Instead I announced in front of each band in turn through one week at Easter 2012, that I would no longer be seen as a man. I think my explanation, and certainly my courage, was enough to settle all gossip and ridicule, and I had a lot of support, especially from other women.
The end of prosthetics, a new natural self, 2013.
Above all, though, it was three other women friends who were the key to my survival, giving me all the encouragement, time, support and advice I needed to leave the old gender behind completely. None had experience of transgendered people before, but what they gave was very much more than just acceptance.
My sister has been amazing. We don’t live near each other, but after a lifetime of phone calls maybe four times a year, we now spend an hour a week. Being sisters is a wonderful thing, and her support and mediation has meant my mother accepting me fully too.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Andie: No. I’m not one for role models, heroines or leaders to follow. It’s great to see the famous and prominent being out and trans, because it makes me feel less vulnerable and part of something more unassailable. People with established public respect like musicians, actors, film directors, TV personalities or writers bring that respectability into being transgendered. But I don’t feel they wholly represent me, or agree with everything they say.
My first awareness was Caroline Cossey, modeling as Tula, but everywhere she was billed with ‘sex change’, like it was a choice she made. I was wowed, but felt no connection. I wish I’d seen interviews with her at the time.
I have to do my own thing or it doesn’t feel right. However, seeing other trans friends going through the whole business of gender identity clinics, psychiatrists, and negotiating the hormones through to surgery and out the other side, has been hugely important. I had plenty of examples of complete success to give me confidence in getting all the way through. This is why I blog.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Andie: That’s the easy question! Losing my wife, home and daughter. The consequences of transition quickly reveal how conditional even the best love you know, can be. It was absolute and complete agony. We were together for 32 years and I never stopped loving her.
But when she started treating me like an intruder or potential predator in my own bedroom, even before my body looked any different at all, it very nearly kicked me completely over the edge. Everything else has been very straightforward apart from that. I have always been so completely confident about who I am and how I should live, that even the most “courageous” things like public announcements in person have just seemed obvious.
In her own place at last.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Andie: Here in the UK the situation is on the whole pretty good, but patchy. I know people who can’t find housing or jobs whose main explanation is discrimination. I certainly thing being transgendered on top of anything else compounds your problems.
In terms of legal protections there isn’t a lot more to ask, but implementing non-binary attitudes is still very hard, whether it’s gendered bathrooms or official forms and registrations. The male-female declaration is pervasively required and yet there is so little reason to do so.
I was clear after a few months of part-time transition, that I am a woman, not ambiguously-gendered, so I was flipping within the binary more than declaring neither. For non-binary people life is very awkward indeed in many ways.
If society could be persuaded to drop binary identification everywhere that it doesn’t actually make a difference, this would go a long way, and probably further than protesting for trans rights with reference to a persisting binarist culture.
I have had very little antagonism or prejudice throughout my transition and wherever I’ve travelled and lived - partly because I’m not out clubbing on Saturday nights, partly because I’m older and well-established as a person with proven skills and abilities, and partly because I refused to compromise my identity and went at it with total confidence and sheer bloody-mindedness.
Those who find themselves in different cultural areas, or in places where local bigotry is rife, I know have a very different experience. Even when there are legal protections, you may find your local police force unskilled, untrained and unsympathetic, or that your HR managers in work situations don’t implement proper practice and stamp on bullying.
I think also that for trans women we experience a mix of prejudice through being women and also being trans. I would say I’ve had as much to deal with simply for being a woman, as I have for being trans.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Andie: My first reaction to that is to say that there is no “transgenderism”. It isn’t an ideology and we aren’t a movement. People are born with gender identities that don’t conform to the nonsensical binary. Compare feminist with female. We don’t have femaleist. I worry about movements that form to make a normal variety highly visible.
We need education, awareness and ordinary presence in the world, not to be something special or irritating. Human rights are human rights, and most are asserted through demonstrating the irrationality or absurdity of inequality. We have to stand up for ourselves, yes, but so do so many others, for lots of reasons.
We aren’t a special case to become a new frontier, but we are part of a natural progression as the whole nature of sex, sexuality and gender is opened up to scrutiny. 100,000 people living in their true gender whilst being open about their life story, and doing so fully integrated in society, are a more powerful force than singular loud media voices or events on their own. Sometimes it can be more powerful to be ordinary than to be exceptional. I’d rather be yeast in the loaf than a cherry that can be picked out if disliked.
Performing at Brighton Pride, 2013.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Andie: What is interesting about a trans woman? Let alone a trans man! In any story the only interest is their struggle for identity and acceptance. Aren’t our autobiographies all about our transition and struggles when young?
After transition, it’s just another story. So to introduce a character “for interest” invites the parody, the inept attempt, the obvious faux pas, the loneliness, or the difficulties of a sex life. Transition is only worth having in the story if it’s a problem. Mine would be so boring, except for five minutes!
Rarely is the script showing real interest in the person, and where it is, there are too few trans actors. That means the interpretations cis actors usually give, lack depth or emotional understanding. But why should a trans actor want to play trans parts that aren’t well written? They’re just actors who happen to be trans. Maybe what we need is more trans writers creating meaningful characters.
Even documentaries about gender dysphoria are presented as if no-one will watch unless there is sensation. Our media bĂȘte noir here is The Daily Mail newspaper, that seems to be obsessed with finding and treating trans life stories as exceptional and weird.
There is a real place for trans narratives to be portrayed in order to highlight what gender dysphoria is like to deal with, and how it is regarded in society. Too often it is taken up with sexualized portrayals of inadequacy because it’s more titillating.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Andie: Yes and no. Sorry! The only thing the T has in common is that we are also in a minority that is loosely clumped together in a fuzzy zone characterized by sex. LGB is clearly sexuality, and trans gendered people have sexualities frequently overlapping with these. T itself is nothing to do with sexuality. LGB folk need each other to fulfil what they are. Trans people do not.
LGB people want to be where they are, securely and safely. Their cause is one of no change. Most of us move out of being trans when our transitions become history. For me the whole point is that I identify as a woman, not primarily as transgendered or transsexual. Our cause is one of being allowed securely and safely to change.
Proud parent in pink, her son graduates;
the last family photo, 2012.
Monika: Is there anyone in the transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for the gay activism?
Andie: Again, I wonder in what sense we are a transgendered ‘society’ or ‘community’? Our identities don’t require us to meet each other. We have a clinical or physiological status in common, but not in our personalities or wider life objectives. Famous, prominent or self-promoting trans figures can at once cheer for us and alienate us.
We are so diverse that a cheerleader for young trans people gets up the noses of the later-life folk, and vice versa. Many prominent figures annoy me one way or another, because they don’t represent me. I can speak for myself. I am active without being an activist, and I remember baulking at being called an activist in another period of campaigning on another issue altogether. I thought I was just being an outspoken concerned citizen! Harvey Milk didn’t set out to be an icon, and many icons only become that by being adopted.
There are key figures who are mainly remembered for living ordinary lives whilst pressing the case for better education and equal treatment. They are the ones behind the organizations like Press for Change, Trans Media Watch, GIRES, Mermaids and so on. I am immensely grateful for the progress they have made through hard graft and persistent, honest dialogue.
Again, I think 100 trans people assertively refusing to be othered are more powerful in the long run than 100 people cheering on a big name. Seeing so many trans people in the top 100 Pink List is far more powerful than one big name at number 1, in terms of lasting impact, because they are diverse and represent a broader range of trans people.
So for me there have been lots of good folk pushing in the right direction, but thankfully no over-dominant figureheads.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Andie: No, I’m not. I’m not a very political animal. I’ll always sign a good petition, stand up for rights, be present at events, and write my fingers to the bone. Our voices have to be heard, but if it’s only ever seen as lobbying or activism, then we become exceptional people rather than included people. Transgendered people in public politics do make a difference though, and I’m always happy to be invited or speak.
Trans politicians are there because it’s what they do, not because they’re trans, and in the course of that, make it their concern to work for trans equality and awareness. The point is, transgendered people are in all walks of life and every profession. From these places we need to demonstrate that we aren’t exceptional or strange, and deserve to be treated like anyone else.
Publishing Grrl Alex, her first author
with Bramley Press, 2012.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Andie: Absolutely central. It is everything. I think it accounts for a substantial part of my musings on my blog. Coming to terms with being transgendered brought home very harshly that “love” is not always what you think it is.
It is, as far as I have experienced, heavily conditional. When all is well, you feel secure and mutually committed, but it can all disappear very suddenly. My interpretation of much of what we call “love” is that it is an expression of gratitude that the other makes us what we want to be. Iris Murdoch described genuine love as “the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.” I think I understand this now.
So I have been re-evaluating “love” for the last two years, to understand what I mean by it, how I use the concept and expression, and how honest I am as well. There are people I really do love, and instinctively I feel I have a great deal of it to offer. I have also had to come to understand the friendship of women, and that love can be a part of this without any reference to physical intimacy. My desire for physical intimacy, for being loved and wanted, to be touched, is very strong indeed, but it is now carried on an understanding that it doesn’t consume other parts of my life in compromise.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Andie: I like fashion, but at nearly 58 I have to be careful! I dress sensibly and appropriately for my age (I feel 10 years younger), on the smarter side for work, and nicely casual socially. It took me ages to wear trousers again, because of the “profile” (which gets easier on T-blockers!) and history. Mostly I wear skirts, and err on the side of slight elegance. I shall love dancing in leggings after the op!
It took very little effort to discover my preferred palette of jade/teal/purple with their pastel counterparts, after a lifetime of dull blue and grey. If there’s one thing I do get right and enjoy, it’s co-ordination with accessories. In summary, I dress like women my age, though slightly more colorfully sometimes. I never went through the frilly/girly/miniskirt stage of “lost female adolescence”, because I just loved being an ordinary woman. Mind you, I have slapped my own wrist a few times when clothes-shopping!
Performing at Polari, Southbank,
Royal Festival Hall, 2012.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Andie: I am just a few months away from gender confirmation surgery. That is the final piece in my jigsaw. I’ve certainly tired of the years of having to prove to clinicians who will never really understand, that I really am a woman and just need help in adjusting everything.
Leaving all that behind, and being fully healed after surgery, I think I will just go on being ordinary but with even more confidence that no-one can challenge me over it any more. Next step, along with the surgery, is my gender recognition certificate, and then the last document: my birth certificate. Nothing left to do but be myself, play the music and dance - and see if there is any possibility of an intimate relationship again.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Andie: Don’t! You will never win by resisting it. You are who you are and what you are, and this is your life, nobody else’s. No-one else can be you, so get out there and be you. It’s what you’re here for. Nothing you lose will be a fraction of what you gain by living an authentic life. So don’t waste time.
Be safe, be sensible, get real support from genuine friends and commit 100 per cent to making the most of who you are. Don’t imitate anyone, find what’s right and comfortable for you and be prepared to be different. In everything you do, be present as yourself. You don’t need to be abrasive to be authentic, accept that not everyone will like it, but that this is their choice to make, not yours to adapt to. 
Monika: Andie, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Andie Davidson.
Done on 9 April 2014
© 2014 - Monika 

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Wish I read something like this 20+ years ago... especially the last answer. Resistance is indeed futile, but we had no evidence of that in the 80s/early 90s. I so envy the Millennials and 30-somethings of today, but that gets me nowhere.

    Thank you for making these interviews happen and available to us. They do inspire so many and offer much in the way of knowledge. You are performing a great service for many of us girls.


    Karin (from across the Pond) : )


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