Archive for the 'Shameless self-promotion' Category

Ohz noez! Not *another* 2008 roundup…

December 31, 2008

Bird of Paradox logoBeen a funny old year, one way or another. The online trans community is, by definition, not only global, but also far-flung to the point of attenuation. As such it’s an almost impossible task to pick out the traditional 10 best posts, so I’ll totally cop out of that and instead, point you in the direction of my blogroll and suggest you go straight to the source(s).

Having decided to break with the ’10 best posts’ tradition, I thought it might be interesting (for me, at least) to browse through some of the comprehensive collection of facts’n’ figures in the BoP blog stats vaults. I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised – and you know how much I like to share!

19012ETA, 10.30pm: My usually irritating attention to detail meant that I couldn’t log out of BoP for the night without one last obsessive glance at the stats page… And… ZOMFGWTFLULZ!!!1!!!1!! In the last hours of the last day of the year, BoP has passed the 19,000 hits mark! How amazing is that – 19,012 unique views! Yay all my bloggy visitors and yay Bird of Paradox!


Where was I? Oh yes: so, without further ado, BoP loudly presents the first and final blog stats update for 2008…


  • Total views: 19,012
  • Busiest month: November – 5,085 views
  • Busiest day: Friday, 3 October – 717 views
  • Views per day (overall average) – 78 views

Top Posts for all days ending 2008-12-31 (Summarized)

Search Terms for all days ending 2008-12-31 (Summarized)

  • bird of paradox – 84 views
  • kellie telesford – 37 views
  • angie zapata – 25 views
  • pregnant man – 18 views
  • julie bindel – 16 views
  • transgender day of remembrance 2008 – 16 views
  • lgbtory – 15 views
  • angie zapata murder – 14 views
  • thomas beatie – 13 views
  • ken zucker – 11 views

tg_black-on_pink_100x107My favourite search terms would have to be transsexual neck, wizard medical and smultron female – but I think I like this one the best: ordinary middle aged transgender women… Yep, I know that feeling!

A big hand for the spam monster: “Akismet has protected your site from 936 spam comments already, but there’s nothing in your spam queue at the moment”. Just as well, really, I still take it unnecessarily personally when some idiot spambot decides I need to remortgage my p3n15. “Too late!”, I rage futilely at the screen…

20081225-240x389And, last but not least, a big thank you for all the support and encouragement I’ve had from the huge number of people who’ve visited the site. Friends, bloggers, friendly bloggers, everyone – and no, I’m not naming names, you know who you are :)

When I took this blog out of cold storage in May and started to post more regularly, I didn’t for one minute imagine it would ever be as well-supported as it has been, so to have received nearly 19,000 views in such a short time is as confidence-boosting as it’s humbling.

May the coming year bring you everything you wish for yourselves.



o hai

November 12, 2008

i can haz baying mob?

The first rule of Book Club…

October 28, 2008

Thomas Beatie’s autobiography, Labor of Love: The Story of One Man’s Extraordinary Pregnancy, will be available in hardcover from 10 November, list price $24.95.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Thomas Beatie electrified the world in April 2008 with his announcement that he was seven months pregnant and due to give birth in July. The news made headlines across the globe, but it’s only one chapter in a fascinating saga.

Labor of Love reveals Beatie’s unique life experiences: his less-than-idyllic childhood in Hawaii, his feelings of being a young man trapped in the body of a woman, his fight to conceive a child, and the obstacles surrounding the delivery. This astonishing narrative permits an intimate look at a family that refuses to let other people’s definitions of family deter them from creating one on their own terms.

Labor of Love is much more than the story of a unique pregnancy and birth — it’s a beautiful and controversial love story about going against the tide, a powerful statement about the evolution of family and identity in the new millennium.


Click here for previous posts on this blog which reference Thomas Beatie.

…one teaspoonful at a time

July 25, 2008

This via Stephanie Stevens at The View From (Ab)Normal Heights:

A Small Change At The BBC

Moving the mountain…


©2008 Helen G

Notes for the Feminist Activist Forum’s transgender and intersex learning exchange

July 12, 2008

Saturday 12th July 2008

Hello. I’d just like to say thanks to Sophie, debi, Red and the members of FAF, the Feminist Activist Forum for inviting me to the Lambeth Women’s Project today to take part in this transgender and intersex learning exchange.

I’m Helen, and I’m a transsexual woman, or trans woman. I was diagnosed as being transsexual (which is the severe form of gender dysphoria) in 2006, although I first knew that “something wasn’t right” for many years before I actually asked for medical help. After my diagnosis, I began the process of transitioning, which is a way for transsexual people to change ourselves and our lives to match our “real” genders. For me, although I’d been born and raised, and lived most of my life as male, I identified as female. The way I think of it is that my brain was expecting my body to have female sex characteristics. This is called gender dissonance and it was – and is – at the heart of my transsexuality.

I should also add that, despite the name, transsexuality is actually about gender identity, and not sexual orientation. As the saying goes: “Sexual orientation is about who you go to bed with, but gender identity is about who you go to bed as” (and yes, that is an over-simplification, which is why I use it here only as a convenient shorthand).

So, as you might expect, I’ve been through – and am still going through – a lot of changes as I’ve transitioned. I’m happy to talk about pretty much any aspect later during the Q&A, but for the moment I’d like to focus on some of the intersections and overlaps between my transsexuality and feminism.

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make is in relation to the various privileges that I benefit from. Perhaps I should just explain what I understand by the word ‘privilege’. The best definition I’ve found is by a blogger called Brown Betty, who says: “Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf”.

I believe there’s a distinct connection between privilege and inequality. Privilege is both a cause of, and is caused by, inequality. And when I started to think about gender inequality, I realised that you cannot ignore sexism, either. And suddenly you have two of the fundamental concepts that feminism addresses: inequality, and sexism.

A quick history lesson – because we always need to know where we’ve come from, to be able to figure out where we are, and where we might be headed. Feminism came into being in Britain in the nineteenth century, and initially, it was focused on obtaining equal rights for women in things like marriage, and property, and of course, the right to vote: suffrage. (Via Wikipedia). But those gender inequalities all came about because of sexism, and this is summarised really well by the writer Bell Hooks in her book Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center. She says: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression“. That is such a great definition – and it means as much to me as a trans woman, as it should for any other, non-trans, or cissexual woman. And for anyone who is an ally to feminists, as well, come to that…

So far, so good – but there is one area of feminist ideology that preoccupies me quite a lot, and it’s the tricky problem of gender. It’s one of those words we all use, but is really hard to define. My opinion – and I know that many second-wavers will disagree – is that ‘gender’ is about a sense of being feminine or masculine, or woman or man. I think it’s innate: it’s something we’re born with. Whereas I would say that ‘sex’ describes biological and physical traits – such as internal and external organs, chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, etc.

To me, these are two very distinct but interrelated things, and it seems that the problems only really start to arise when ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are used as interchangeable terms. At the risk of over-simplification, for me ‘sex’ is what’s between a person’s legs and ‘gender’ is what’s between your ears. As I said at the start, the key to understanding my transsexuality was realising that my brain had always expected my body to have female characteristics.

However, nothing’s ever simple, and as soon as we start talking about gender, we also need to remember that, out of that sense of being gendered come ways of behaving, ways that society calls ‘female’ or ‘male’, ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’. These behaviours are generally what is meant when we refer to gender roles, and gender expression.

There is an aspect of gender which always provokes discussion, and, like it or not, we cannot ignore it: it’s that well-used feminist slogan, “gender is socially constructed”. And it’s one of the big problems I have in trying to synthesise a working trans-feminism. Hard-line social constructivists – and there are a few of them about! – will tell me that gender is merely a societal response to physical sexual differences. They tell me that I should be ‘fluid’ about gender and maybe even invent a hybrid ‘third gender’. Yes indeed, these cultural feminists tell me many things about how I should live my life and stay out of theirs… But I would counter their constructivism with what I realise is also a sort of essentialism; namely that there is this invisible thing inside each of us called “gender”.

I’m not saying that there is no constructivism around gender. I am saying that because something is a construct doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Money, laws, politics – they’re all constructs – but they seem pretty real to me… The way I cross my legs when I sit down, or that I like to wear a little makeup, or the way that I apologise for things that aren’t my fault – they’re constructed, too. I’ve probably learned these things in a subconscious way, and I don’t think they have much to do with my vagina or oestrogen levels.

Some feminists accuse trans women of conforming to gender sterotypes, of reinforcing the gender binary and generally behaving as willing dupes of the patriarchy. And, in turn, I wonder why it’s considered progressive to have such fixed ideas of what “man” and “woman” mean. I wonder what, exactly, those critics themselves are doing to dismantle gender. Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, in her book Crossing: A Memoir, gives a simple and heartfelt response as to why some trans women learn stereotypical feminine gestures: “It’s to keep from getting murdered, dear”.

I don’t think these things which certain feminists criticise me for doing make me a bad feminist. In my opinion, feminism is about the worth and value of every human being – or should be. Which leads us to another related source of confusion. Transsexuality is not an ideology – it’s a lived experience of a condition which has been known, by many names, for almost as long as there have been people and societies. First and foremost it’s personal, not political. But because many people simply don’t understand transsexuality, they will react first, think later (if at all). So we become a target for bigotry, hatred, abuse, harassment and violence. It’s all driven by that fear of the unknown, that irrational idea that trans* people are somehow a threat to the world and her sister. Mad, bad and dangerous to know? Er, no – I don’t think so. I’m just a very ordinary middle-aged woman who is trying to come to terms with some very big changes in her life. But if transitioning teaches us anything, it teaches us that we must learn to survive – often through adopting gender roles and expressions which are associated with our gender identities – and in the process we become politicised, even if we don’t realise it.

Developing that survival mechanism has informed my feminism to a very great extent. Trans and non-trans women alike, we all suffer oppression and inequality as a direct result of living in a society which arbitrarily puts the interests of these people ahead of those people with no justification other than maintaining a system which long ago outlived any usefulness it may arguably once have had.

But, whatever a gender-free society might look like, I believe that, had I been born with a male body, I would still have transitioned and undergone surgery (SRS). I do feel quite strongly about this, although I can’t give you any cold, hard logic for it, let alone empirical proof. But even though the research so far has been very sketchy, there do seem to be indications that some aspects of gender are ‘hard-wired’ into us, possibly when we are still in the womb, as a result of fluctuations in hormone levels. So maybe it will come to pass that this essentialist philosophy – that there is this invisible thing inside each of us called “gender” – will be proved to have a basis in fact after all.

But back in the here and now, not only am I finding it very hard to come up with a feminism that sits comfortably with being transsexual, but I’m also starting to wonder if such a symbiosis is even possible. A trans woman who identifies as a feminist seems to set herself up as a target for so many people. Men will not accept me as a man – not that I want them to – and more than a few feminists will tell me that, no matter what I do or say, I will always be a man. Ironically, that leaves me in a really good position to create that mythical ‘third gender’ – but there are two problems with that. First, by the way Thomas Beatie – ‘the pregnant man’ – was attacked by so many people, we know that redefining the gender binary is something you have to feel really strongly about. And I don’t have that strong belief: I’m a woman, and quite comfortable being a woman, thank you. Secondly, being told that I should find a hybrid gender for myself smacks of Othering – and I get more than enough of that in my everyday existence, thank you, without going out actively looking for it.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that I’m really glad to be here today – and I’m even more glad that you’re all here today. I’m looking forward to a fruitful and constructive workshop, and I’m confident that it’ll be an enjoyable way for us all to learn something new about each other’s views and beliefs.


Later update: Well, that was a waste of time, wasn’t it? – All those notes for that big-deal talk I was planning at the FAF workshop on Saturday and in the event, I was too busy falling apart to even use them…

Let me backtrack a little. I arrived at the Lambeth Women’s Project building in good time and met up with Red and Sophie… Helped out a little answering the door, sticking posters up, etc, and the event finally got under way about half-an-hour late, with an audience of maybe 40 or 50, with four of us on the first panel, plus Sophie to keep it all running.

Col, a really nice trans man, started things off by showing a short film called “The Jar” that he’d made about 20 years ago, very early in his transition. It referred to his father, who collected butterflies, and the sequence showed the process from capture, to killing, to pinning and mounting; ending up with the ‘specimen’ in a glass tray being put into a chest of drawers in what looked like a warehouse.

I’m a bit of a butterfly fan anyway – partly because I have one or two good associations. Also, I suppose it’s quite an obvious metaphor for transitioning/surgery, but whatever, I found the whole thing powerfully disturbing…

Col followed this with a short talk on what it meant to him, especially in terms of his transitioning and then the other two (Phoebe and Debbie) gave similar accounts of their histories.

I suppose I should have considered beforehand that it would be about the more personal side but I didn’t. I’d stupidly assumed we’d be talking about how being transsexual affected one’s view of feminism. But with the three other people having talked about their personal histories, I felt that I probably should do the same.

And I was really rubbish. I hadn’t imagined it would be that difficult to talk about it, but for some reason it was… I got quite upset and had to sit down after a very few minutes because I just couldn’t go on for crying. (I’m tearing up again now and I’m writing this two days later).


I don’t know what was – is – the matter with me. The others managed fine and I was just a total emotional trainwreck. Very embarrassing and I’m still beating myself up about it now…

Anyway, the long and the short of it was that I left before the afternoon session started: I just came home, lay down on the bed and cried myself to sleep. I felt such a fool. I woke maybe early evening, and that was about it for the weekend, really.

Am I really so broken, inside? That I can’t talk about something so central to my life as transitioning is? But I can talk around the politics of it from dawn til dusk? What’s that about, then?


 ©2008 Helen G, except the photo (which appears by kind permission of Red Chidgey) and the logo (which was stolen shamelessly from the Feminist Activist Forum website)

Word of the week: liminal

May 10, 2008

“Liminal”: according to Ask Oxford (the online Compact OED), it means either relating to a transitional or initial stage or at a boundary or threshold, but I really like William Gibson’s explanation, referring to ‘liminal spaces’ he says: “They’re not even places, they’re thresholds that lead you into someplace else. I always find those interesting. Often there’s literally nothing going on in thresholds, it’s not the room, it’s not the house, but you can’t get into the house or room without going through the threshold.” (Via)

The concept has been in the back of my mind for a few days now. After my recent stint as Guest Blogger at The F Word came to an end, I was surprised to find myself in just such a liminal space. The problem was, I didn’t know what threshold I was standing on, or what lay beyond. I had a hunch that writing was going to be part of it: I have been keeping a personal Journal about my transition since 2006 and it has helped me realise that there were – are – things I needed to write about, matters with some bearing on my personal politics which I believe would also make a useful contribution to the wider debate about how transsexual women are viewed by, and contribute to, contemporary society.

Blogging at TFW had really helped me to start thinking about, not only feminist issues, but also feminism as an ideology, and how my experience as a trans woman informed my thinking, and vice versa. So I’m really delighted to have been invited to rejoin the team as a regular blogger; hopefully the rusty wheels which have begun to turn in my mind can gather a little momentum and my thoughts find an outlet there. I am still in search of a personal belief system, my own trans feminism, and I hope that by posting there we can all engage in a useful dialog that will help us to see things in a different light, and from which, maybe, we can learn.

In my liminal state I wrote a couple of pieces, one of which I’ve cross-posted there. It’s primarily a reflection on the way my Guest Blogger residency has modified the way I see feminism, and I originally planned to make it my farewell post – how things change in such a short time… So I apologise for any repetition to my friends, co-bloggers and any others who may recognise the content, but I think it’s a useful point for picking up the pieces before we move on to other discussions, other topics around the intersections and overlaps between feminism and trans* issues.

So here are some random thoughts from the past few days; I hope that they are of some interest and I look forward to posting at TFW more regularly in future.

So long and thanks for all the fish


Cross-posted at The F Word on 11 May 2008

©2008 Helen G

So long and thanks for all the fish

May 5, 2008

This piece began as a simple thank you to my co-bloggers and a brief summary of my feelings on the interaction between feminism and my transsexuality. I originally thought it would be my final post to the blog, but – as well as some quite personal thoughts – it contains a couple of things that would quite likely enrage certain radfem trolls. Not wishing to start a firestorm at TFW just as I was leaving, I decided to leave it as a general email to the group rather than posting it at TFW proper. Having said that, at the time of this post, one of my TFW co-bloggers has asked me why I haven’t posted it and three others have said that I should, so who knows, maybe it’ll yet appear there too – but we’ll see…

But as I make a point or two in it that I do feel quite strongly about, and as this space is My Toys™ after all, I thought oh what the hell – so here it is anyway:


from: Helen G
to: TFW co-bloggers
date: 3 May 2008 11:51

So long and thanks for all the fish
Or: Helen’s last post that never was…


My two months’ sojourn at TFW as Guest Blogger has been an interesting if challenging experience, coming as it did at a time of great personal unhappiness; nevertheless I’m grateful to Jess and my co-bloggers for the opportunity to try my hand at blogging to a wider audience than the handful of friends who read my personal Journal.

I believe that both maxims, ‘the political is personal’ and ‘the personal is political’ hold true and I came to TFW hoping that I could learn more about both aspects as viewed through the lens of feminism. I hoped to find a more political side to my ongoing transition, which is unarguably a personal experience first and foremost. Having focused on that personal side for some 18 months, my journey of transition had brought me to a point where I believed I was ready to think about other aspects apart from the ‘prime directive’ of simply surviving. Having been a reader of TFW for some time, I believed that there was a sense of community, of inclusivity and tolerance of a wide range of views and opinions. And I welcomed the chance to take a more active role in that community, if only for a short while.

During the early days and months of my transition, my sense of feminism seemed to come quite naturally, albeit in an almost instinctive/intuitive way. I don’t consider myself particularly well-educated; I find book-learning difficult and have tried to piece things together as best I can with the help of the interwebs, so there are, unsurprisingly, many large gaps in my knowledge. Perhaps more than anything, the so-called Real Life Experience aspect of my transition really helped me to see the inequality and injustices that women suffer, as well as offering a new perspective on the other problems facing me as I began to build a new life as a trans woman.

In putting these things together, I wondered if I could begin to find a synthesis of my experiences as both a trans* person and as a woman: a trans feminism in which I could reconcile my personal and political beliefs and experiences. I’m still looking for that holy grail, but at the time of writing, I’m not optimistic. My current thoughts are that my search for that synthesis has more in common with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The basic idea(s) of feminism made sense but didn’t go far enough: problems were identified but I saw no clear solutions. I began to look at radical feminism but, although it offered a suggestion (dismantle the patriarchy) it didn’t seem to have a definite plan for doing that. In that sense, it seemed remarkably familiar to Engels’ idea that, after the working class had risen up and seized power, the state would simply – somehow – just wither away.

And then there were the radical feminists… Or rather, some radical feminists, who would have me believe that, oh, d’yknow, I just don’t have the energy to rake over those old and cold ashes. Suffice it to say that I found myself fundamentally opposed to their “analysis” of trans women. And I’m not convinced that “once a man, always a man” is a particularly useful stance from which to discuss trans women.

Yes, the existence of transsexual people does pose a problem to certain feminists because it directly contradicts some very strongly held assumptions about gender, gender identity, gender roles and gender expression. The problem, I think, originates here: to me, as a trans woman, gender is first of all personal – whereas it seems that feminism views gender in political terms. And it is there, in the reconciliation of those two diametrically opposing views, that we should be searching for common ground. Instead, it has become a battlefield, and me, well, I’m a pacifist, I don’t see why there needs to be conflict, or yet another binary. Is it really so difficult to simultaneously hold two different views, or is it easier for me because I’ve had to do exactly that as a sufferer of gender dysphoria and its integral dissonance?…

Had de Beauvoir known about gender dysphoria, perhaps her assertion that one is not born woman but becomes one would have been less binaristic, less dogmatic, less silencing.

As long as transphobia of the magnitude that I have experienced continues to exist then I’m not sure I want to think of myself as a radical feminist. How can I possibly be part of a movement that condones such hatred towards me simply because of who I am, because I have the temerity to undergo massive social, hormonal, psychological and surgical changes in order to alleviate my gender dissonance and live in my ‘true’ identity as a woman, even though I was born and raised male?

All of which leaves me, where, exactly? At this moment, I really don’t have a definitive answer; I doubt I ever will. I feel isolated, confused, lonely, alienated, disconnected, disenfranchised, a long way from home (wherever that is) – but there’s nothing new there. I still think that women – including trans women – are oppressed by patriarchy, amongst other power structures, and I feel strongly that that imbalance needs to be addressed and redressed as a matter of urgency by everybody, irrespective of gender. But feminism needs a plan – a consensual and inclusive plan – of how, exactly, society is to change and be changed. I hope when that stage is reached, I will still be around to take part – although, given my age (51), I’m not sure how likely that is. Right now I’m feeling, in the words of Antonio Gramsci, a ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’. It’s a massive disconnect and there is much work I need to do…

But now I’m miles off topic. Thank you for letting me blog at TFW, I really miss it and you all already, as sad as that probably sounds. I hope I may contribute again in the future, but in the meanwhile I think I’m going to – finally – start using the blog I set up last year before I went to Bangkok for my surgery. I didn’t get to use it then, for various reasons, but maybe now it’s time I did. I need to talk about these matters. And yes, J, it does have an RSS feed ;)

I hope all your dreams come true. Take good care of yourselves, and of each other.

love and hugs
Hells Bells

Later edit: I am a feminist because I accept the basic tenets of feminism – namely, bringing about an end to oppression and inequality by the dismantling of patriarchal power structures – even though there seem to be no specific methods proposed for doing this.

But, on a personal level, I cannot be a part of a feminist movement in which a majority appear to condone transphobic hate speech by a minority of its members.


©2008 Helen G

Introducing our new guest blogger…

May 5, 2008

HelholProperly speaking, Helen doesn’t really need an introduction, as she has been guest blogging for us on an ad hoc basis for a little while now. But we’ve now formalised everything, and you can expect regular contributions from her for the next two months :)

Over to her…

Hello. I’m Helen and I’m delighted to be guest blogging here at The F Word. I’ve been based in London for about 5 years and work in IT support for an Interior Design company. In 2006 I was diagnosed as gender dysphoric and began my transition shortly after. I underwent surgery in Bangkok in 2007 and am happy to say that my gender dissonance is now much reduced. Transitioning has definitely informed my politics, in the areas of gender identity and LGBT issues as well as feminism, and I hope that this interest will be reflected in my posts.


Posted by Jess at The F Word on 06 March 2008.

Hello world

May 5, 2008

Having just completed a short stint as Guest Blogger at The F Word, I’d like to continue writing the odd (very) piece about issues and matters that concern me as a trans woman trying to build a life in a patriarchal society.

So I thought I’d blow the dust off this blog, which I set up last year but have never used.

I plan to start by re-posting several pieces that I wrote during my time at TFW, beginning with some ad hoc posts from January and February 2008, through to a selection of posts made during my Guest Bloggership between March and May 2008.

After that, well, this blog will provide a place for future posts on trans*/feminist related subjects, rather than posting them in my Journal, which can return to being a more personal document of my transition, as originally intended.

And now on with the show…

©2008 Helen G