right. I STILL have not covered all of the conference, and then there’s a troubling thing happening in Vancouver, all “I-dentity-politicky” that it is. The city hall has passed recommendations to make city facilities “more inclusive” to a new acronym — TGV2S — people. that stands for “trans, gender-variant and two-spirited”. At least the city is no longer pretending concern for women (except those women who are calling themselves ‘transmen’ or bois or gender-fluid or whathaveyou. Just so long as they are not calling themselves women or female or — heaven forfend! — lesbian). Nope. This is all for the trans. I would say, at the expense of women and girls. But at least they’re not pretending anymore that any of this has anything to do with lesbians. or gays, for that matter.
Now, I’ve said for a long time that men know what they want in a woman, so they are of course much more qualified to BE women. Indeed, in some of the coverage of this stuff, a teen boy who thinks he is a girl is featured. He says that all he wants is to be treated as a girl.
Does that mean he yearns for other boys to snap his brastrap? To shout sexual comments (‘nice ass!’ ‘wanna sit on my face?’) wherever he goes? Does he want other boys to throw coins at him that represent the value of his looks? Maybe he wishes that his teachers would ignore him in class in favour of other boys who may be less competent than he is? Or perhaps he wants to be restricted more in his movements, taught to fear going out at night lest a strange man attack him and rape him. Or steal him from the streets, from his life…
there are millions of ways that girls are treated that chip away at our confidence, our belief in our abilities, and restrict our movements and the opportunities before us. We learn early the qualities men look for that give us our worth–I dare say no one wants to be ‘treated like a girl’. I kind of understand why there are so many more young women claiming to be ‘trans’ now — the list above is only partial.
I don’t think I was aware of all that (some of it for sure) when I wanted to be a boy. I did see the endless work that my mom and other women did, work in our homes that everyone took for granted, and which seemed like drudgery to me. Also, i wanted to be big and strong and fast on my feet. Something I saw boys were, and men on tv, and I was most assuredly not. When i was very young, I thought perhaps if I were a boy, I wouldn’t be asthmatic. And I could run around all summer with no shirt on, and climb trees and run barefoot without spending the next night or few days in the hospital. Has nothing to do with sex, I know. But it’s magical thinking, anyway, and it is something that kids do a lot of. It’s normal. What’s NOT normal is when adults go along with it.
I got into a little argument with one of my facebook friends a while back. She took issue with something I said about the trans trend. I said that if I were young now, I would be in danger of being diagnosed trans, possibly put on puberty blockers and so forth. She said she was a tomboy too when she was a kid, but that didn’t mean she was male. No, she said, that wouldn’t happen to us because we were not persistent in our belief we were boys. Well, of course we weren’t. Our parents and teachers didn’t see our ‘gender fluid’ behaviour and tastes as signs that we were born in the wrong body or having boy brains or other nonsense. Had they responded the way parents and teachers are now responding to young people who have behaviours and tastes that are stereotypically those of the opposite sex, our beliefs would have become persistent and fixed. That boy, the kid who wants to be treated like a girl, he might grow up to be a perfectly healthy and well-adjusted gay man. Why not leave him the hell alone to do that? Rather than make him stay in pink, pee in the girls room, and continue to believe that his normal, healthy, male body is wrong. This is abusive.
But it looks like encouragement. He’s lauded as brave, his parents as oh-so-progressive. Everything looks all shiny and social justicey. But really, none of this changes anything at all. Not structurally. Gender roles are reinforced with rebar and concrete, and women and girls have smaller and smaller, fewer and fewer spaces that are only for females. Anyone who is non-conforming is in danger now. Especially lesbians. Young lesbians don’t have the women’s liberation movement I had when I was coming out. And we don’t tell our coming out stories anymore, either. Because no one is in any closet, and everyone’s queer. There’s no context, only I-dentity.
no matter, you know that boy will likely never be treated like a girl. Already he has a sense of entitlement—he is given so much encouragement and appreciation for his so-called choice. This is nothing like the way girls are treated. Ever. His way of “being a girl” is limited to what he knows from observing girls–who will only give him part of their stories. They might share with him things like make up tips and how to dress or something, but they’re not going to share their experiences of menstruation or fear of sexist attacks from boys. not because they wouldn’t necessarily, but because he’s not going to want to hear about it, it’s not in his realm of ‘girlhood’. I’m not 100% sure of this, but I’m willing to bet that his girlfriends won’t share that stuff with him. It’s not in his experience, not the way it is every girl’s experience. Of course, we don’t always share that stuff with each other, either, but we very rarely share it with males.
anyway. enough of that. I’ll have to deal with it in some way or another when i start work in september, I’m pretty sure. I’ll let you know how it goes.
on to the fun stuff — The Old Country! Yesterday I bought a suitcase because i’ve gone mad buying tea towels and postcards and fridge magnets and all kinds of other Welsh shit to give away. It’s a bit disordered. As if i’m worried I will forget what this is like, and I want to tell everyone, and I want to be, to have part of this and to fix it in my memory — so I bought stickers to put on my car and give to people, and i got a book that’s supposed to teach me conversational Welsh (simple conversations), and another book at a second hand shop about wild animals of Britain, and guidebooks for every damn museum and attraction i’ve been to, and ‘fridge magnets and slate coasters and a couple of small Welsh flags, plus a big one, and recipe books and a couple of calendars — it’s embarrassing. I already know I’m coming back. I know it. I don’t need all this shit. And neither do my loved ones. but they’re getting it. be warned.
Every day I am moved to tears. The Welsh language is beautiful and ancient. It sounds like a holy song. When people greet you here, they say, Y’awright? As in, “are you alright?” and I don’t really get how i’m supposed to answer. Sometimes I go, “ya, fine, um….how are YOU?” and it’s kind of awkward, because they are working, and they just want to know if I want tea or coffee. Or it’s a nicety — like that drunk guy weaving down the street last night, who peered blearily at me, (i was using my cane, it’d been a long day, my knee was tired), and slurred, “ya’awright?” I knew that he didn’t care if I was alright or not, he was just being neighbourly. I said, “hiya”, which seemed to satisfy him and he gave an unsteady wave and lurched off.
It was quiet. I put on a hard hat and the woman at the counter gave me a big old flashlight, and I went down a bunch of uneven stone steps into the remains of a cavernous quarry. Hard work, hard hard work, that slate mining. The dust hangs in the air when the men are digging there, and they breathe it in and then it kills them. Eventually. Inevitably. They start young there, as they do in all mines and it would seem in all of the resource industries. Start young and die young.
I left Porthmadog this morning and drove all meandering to Llandudno. I am staying at the devastatingly charming guest house called Craig-ard. It’s a tall, narrow family outfit—looks Victorian. There’s a small dining room in the front on one side, and a tiny little pub on the other. Fireplace in there, comfy chairs. A little family of ceramic gnomes cheerfully standing in the front garden to welcome guests.
One of the last nights I was with Alun and Sian, Alun asked if there was much of a pub culture in Canada. I said that I didn’t know, I don’t drink so I don’t go to bars anymore, don’t have a sense of that culture if there is one. But today at the meeting, I was telling that story—come to think of it, there’s such a strong recovery culture in Vancouver, I suspect the pub culture must be pretty active too.
Ah, I keep wanting to write, too, about Coity Castle. It’s an old Norman ruin near Bridgend, only about ½ hour walk from the bnb I was at. It’s neatly kept and serene. The remaining turrets are quiet and imposing. Holding the ghosts, the sounds of the people who lived there, the village that grew in its shadow. I met a young man and his little boy there. The man asked where I was from. I just say ‘Vancouver, Canada’ here. I don’t tell them the prairies, because really, in the settler society, we’re kind of only ‘from’ the place we now live. I’m really from here. This island, these people. Not that I belong here, really – Oh who knows. He told me that the Normans came and drove the Welsh north to the poorer land. “They took the south and pushed the Welsh to the hills in the North”.
I asked the man if he was Welsh, “oh yea,” he said proud, “we’re Welsh, aren’t we Noah? This is our castle, isn’t it?” and the boy said, “Our castle. I wanna climb” – so the man said good bye to me, and wished me well and they climbed the stones.
Where was I? oh. Right. The Craig-ard guest house in Llandudno. Now I’m in Manchester at the Manchester Piccadilly train station. There’s a woman across from me talking on her cell phone. She has an American-ish accent. She’s kinda fancy, but casual. Oh, there she goes. Off to somewhere like Lockerbie or something. Now across from me are an elderly man and woman, and a boy I presume is their grandson. He has cerebral palsy and a fit of the giggles.
Last night I went to a meeting. Oh, that was nice. I’ve been to three now, in my time here. Which is three times more than I’ve visited a gym here. I’m getting a bit antsy. I did bring my resistance bands, and I’ve used them a bit. That’s something. Anyway, fer cryin’ out loud, I’m in the (dis)United Kingdom, why would I want to go to a gym when I can wander about in 3500-year-old copper mines, and walk along “permissive footpaths” and eat Scottish kippers for breakfast (as I did this morning)? Anyway, the meeting was lovely, lovely. There was only one guy who had a Northern accent that I found a bit difficult to understand, but really, we speak the same language, I could tell what he was getting at. I got a bunch of email addresses and we swapped invitations to visit, or visit again. Then I rode the bus back to Llandudno with one of the guys who was there, who told me a bit about the town and the things to do there.
Everywhere you go. I visited Caernarfon Castle yesterday, too, on my way from Porthmadog to Llandudno. You know, I should have just decided to stay the heck in wales this whole time. But when I left home, I didn’t know if I’d ever come here again. Now I am certain that I will. I’ve driven on highways, in villages and cities, and taken money out of electric banks and I can say “good morning” and “thank you” in Welsh (Bore da and Driolch – I think. Actually, I can’t yet say ‘thank you’, but I think I got the spelling right). Thanks to my generous friends and cousins, and the meetings I go to in both the Sisterhood and the Fellowship, I have people everywhere I’d like to go. Today I’m going to Edinburgh, for example, and I’m staying with one of my feminist comrades for a couple of days, then at a b and b for a couple of days. Then I’ll go to Newcastle-on-Tyne for a night or two. Then back to London.
I went to the aforementioned 3,500-year-old copper mine today. You can go down into it, the lit tunnels take you down 18 metres under the earth, which is, I think, about half the way that the Bronze age miners got to with tools made of stone and bone. It’s a self-guided tour, you pick up a hard hat at the beginning, and watch a five-minute film that describes the discovery of this mine. It had been a copper mine in the 18th and 19th centuries as well, but it wasn’t until excavations began to turn the site into a car park that they discovered evidence of a very extensive and ancient system of tunnels and shafts. So they brought in the archeologists and pieced together the story. It’s pretty amazing. Those tunnels are narrow – the signs told us that children started working in those mines when they were five or six. I got a little claustrophobic down there, even though I typically kinda like small, enclosed den-like places (like a dog. I’m practicing for my next incarnation as a golden lab). I imagined those people crammed into those dark, narrow caverns, working by candlelight with rough stone hammers. Of course I thought of later miners, like my grandfather in the coal pits, too. Crouched beneath the earth so deep, the air was close, the light was dim, the walls must’ve felt like they were wrapping tighter around them every moment. No wonder Grandpa went to the Canadian Prairies – with the limitless horizons, and nothing between your breath and the sky, nothing to close you in or make you stoop. Grandma had a photograph of Grandpa from, I don’t know, maybe the 1930s – he held a big horse by the bridle, and he was looking straight at the camera, a happy grin on his face. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to his biceps, and his pants were held by suspenders, I think he wore a hat, too, one of those flat caps that farmers wore then, and hipsters wear now. He looked tall and powerful and happy. On top of the world.
Plus it was very cold, windy and rainy today. Bracing. I loved it. I bought a cheese and onion sandwich from the café at the Orme in Llandudno (the mountain, it’s Llandudno’s main industry, looks like, that big hill. That’s where the mine is, and an ancient burial chamber, and feral goats and an amazing view). It was terrible (the sandwich, not the Orme). I only ate half of it. I threw the rest out. I never throw out food. It wasn’t a very good sandwich. But I also had Welsh cakes, and I broke down and spread some butter on them. It did improve them (because “bacon and butter makes everything better”), but as I said on my facebook page, if they used butter in the recipe, they wouldn’t need butter on the finished cake. Other than that, there were no disappointments in Wales at all; my expectations were exceeded.
I went down into a slate mine, and a museum about the clay works in Cornwall, and today I went down into the ancient copper mine, and yesterday I visited a woolen mill. All these places are really sites of human sacrifice. Imagine going without metal or wool or clay–no porcelain or bone china or slate roofs or baking stones or blankets or axes or forks or … but the cost of extraction – I thought of that a lot, every day. The human cost as well as the environmental cost. I never did see the mine in Brynna where my grandpa worked as a boy. Nor any other coalmine.
Then I drove with no trouble right into Manchester – I only had to turn around twice, and got to the train station in LOTs of time. As I do. I wasn’t due back with the car until 4, but I get all anxious, you know, about getting lost. Even though the bossy woman gave accurate directions. She got a little snappy those two times I missed the turn. But there you go. We got there okay, and now my phone is almost out of charge, and I’m on the train for the rest of this journey.
We’re in Scotland! The minute we crossed the border, seems like, everyone’s accent thickened to a brogue. There’s a man sitting across from me, he looks a bit like Daniel Craig, sharp blue eyes and angular lines framing his mouth and eyes. Looks pretty Scottish to me. I have to listen hard when he speaks–that accent, a voice like the winter sea.
One time, when I was still working at the mental health drop-in centre, we had a man come to repair some of the water pipes in the kitchen. He was a Scot. He looked at me and asked, “are you a Scot”?
“partly, yes,” I replied.
“You’ve got that look. The shape of your face, you look like women at home,” He had been in Canada for many years, but hadn’t laid the Canadian accent very thick over his Scots one.
Tomorrow I’m going to Ghostbusters with Jackie and some other women who are anti-pornography activists in Edinburgh—that’ll be fun. It’s going to be good to be with other women again, feminist women. I love this traveling around business, but I’ll do it differently next time. Next time I’ll pick a spot and stay there. Get to know it, and the people who live there.
It’s gonna be hard to choose though. So far the Scottish countryside is every bit as glorious as Wales and Cornwall. My people come from here, too. But many generations ago. Cousin Bev said that some of our ancestors came to Canada from the US – they were Loyalists in the American revolution. They would’ve left here as those stone fences were built and before. Two or three hundred years ago. But we’ve still got Scotland in our bones.
I really miss my accordion. That was a bit of a non-sequitur. We’re arriving in Oxenholme. About an hour out of Edinburgh, now. A little more. Oxenholme is the home of the University of Cumbria, and Gateway to the Lake District, according to the station signs. Okay. Lookit, this is a really long post. That’s all for now.