Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Interview with Andie Davidson

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor 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 a 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 of 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 the 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 proof.
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 a 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 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 the 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 the experience of transgender 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 have 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 think 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 traveled 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 feminists with females. 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 the 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 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.


All the photos: courtesy of Andie Davidson.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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