Paula's Place

Paula's Place

Monday, 28 November 2022

Not really what I wanted ~ Part 1

Although Paula's Place started out very much as a "Trans" Blog I have been trying to get it to reflect the fullness of all aspects of my life and interests, but I can't always resist the need to convey to "civilians" some of what it means to be trans. I had a couple of interesting exchanges over the weekend that brought this particularly to mind.

"Cross the Line" Jazz/blues band

I was playing with my fabulous blues band, supporting a charitable craft faire, a few people were working very hard to raise some funds for a worthy cause, so we helped ~ it's what we do!

I was wearing lace up high heel knee boots, black leggings and a black roll neck sweater, with "Christmas" earrings and my usual (pretty and very feminine) rings, so when I was called a gentleman I didn't react too well ~ I told the woman concerned that she was not being polite but incredibly rude and explained that if she wanted to be that archaic then the term should be lady! There were difficulties getting our gear onto the stage, so I will admit I was distracted and not in a particularly good mood. There was somebody else there who I have known for nearly 30 years, I see her occasionally, and has chosen to totally ignore me, to not even acknowledge my presence. Of these two I'm not sure which is the most offensive. I suppose that the miss gendering could be considered an error, but the blanking is a deliberate choice to insult!

 A little later I was told off for being a bit harsh ~ WOW I wasn't sure how to react to that! In consequence I'm not sure how coherent my reply was, so here goes with a more considered reaction, it may help others understand why we can be sensitive.

  • Do not blame the victim of abuse for defending themselves! Remember who the injured party is, victim blaming happens all the time, from the victim of rape being told that it's her fault for wearing a short skirt, to the knifing victim being told they looked like they might be in a gang. Civilised people understand they shouldn't do this, but very often our civilisation is only a veneer and we make mistakes.
  • Do not make light of the hurt caused! If we deflect with a joke or other light hearted response we are denying that we have been abused. If we are hurt we have to acknowledge the hurt, we have to show that the behaviour causing that hurt is not acceptable. If we are not honest about that hurt and tell the abuser how they have hurt us but make light of it we risk them not understanding what they have done, and therefore leaving them free to do it again, or they might misunderstand our response as a direct insult. Replying to an insult with an insult is conflict, and can lead to worse. Correcting and showing the hurt is more constructive, if unpleasant.
  • To misgender somebody, to use the wrong pronouns, or to dead name them (use the name they were known by before transition) is to tell them that their entire identity is wrong, that you know who they are better than they do themselves, that they are invalid.
  • To simply ignore somebody is just rude!
  • Try to understand why this is abuse! this is the harder bit, and I'm about to go on an extended ramble about what it means to be trans and what we go through ~ well in this case me anyway.
Years ago, back in 2013, after my cross dressing had already destroyed my marriage, I finally got round to asking for some help. I went to my GP, and I was lucky, he was prepared to take me seriously, and checked to find out what the protocol was, back in those days the first bit of door keeping came in the form of a referral to the local mental health team. So off I trot to Bromley to see a "shrink" this was because the opinion at the time was that being trans was a mental disorder, and the first thing to check was was I capable of making decisions! Only after I had been certified sane could my GP then refer me to the London Gender Identity Clinic ~ Phew I could now start my journey properly.

Bare in mind that all this time I was living two lives, for example I have checked my old diary and find that I was at that time playing with the London Charity Orchestra, the All Souls Orchestra (Evangelistic Evangelical Christian Orchestra) and the London Gay Symphony Orchestra ~ apart from being the three best amateur orchestras in London two of them are usually mutually exclusive! I was going to a Trans and Cross Dresser support group while trying to lead a Church home bible study group. I was busy, but in many ways I was struggling, struggling to know how I fitted in, who I was, how was I going to live!

By June 2014 the cracks were beginning to show big time, and I came out to all of my musical contacts and after that point all of my music played as Paula! Although I was already out to a select few friends looking back I think this was the proper start to my coming out process.

The start of coming out, not the start of being trans! That started when I was born ~ just like everybody else I was not born a man or a woman, I was born a baby! But as long as I can remember I had a confusion about who I was, how was I male when I felt female? I wasn't particularly attracted to traditional female roles, but I still knew that I had a very strong female nature, I was not in the least feminine but still needed to release my femininity. Prepuberty this took the form of role play games, imagination games etc. later it extended into furtive cross dressing and crying myself to sleep most nights. It seems strange looking back now, but I assumed that depression and confusion were just part of growing up ~ I often observe that I was very rarely happy at school, I less often admit that I was very rarely happy! 

Everything saw, everything heard told me that IT WAS WRONG ~ there were jokes about traveling in ladies underwear, cross dressers were ridiculed, the only trans person I heard about was April Ashley  and the way the media of teh time treated her made me even more frightened of admitting to "this thing" so at some point I made the decision that as I couldn't do anything about it I would simply have to try to be the best man I could be. Let me make it clear I have never wanted to be a woman, I wanted to be a man, I tried really, really hard to be a man, I devoted the vast majority of my life to trying to be a man ~ in the end I simply could do it.

To be continued:-

Friday, 25 November 2022

The Crisis In the British Healthcare System

There is currently a consultation process (yes yet another!) this time about health care of young trans and gender non-conforming people within the NHS. There is so much wrong with the proposed system it's hard to know where to start, but in order to help inform my response I have had a bit of a poke around on the internet and found a couple of things I would like to share with you.

The first is from a Blog I have only just discovered, it is by Dr Ruth Pearce, a widely accepted authority on Trans Health Care and formerly a member of the NHS England Gender Programme Board ~ so to put it another way she knows her stuff. I would strongly recommend that you take look and read of her blog for yourselves, but here I will just share a letter she has put in the public domain.

Dear all,

I am emailing to share my great alarm at the proposed service specifications for child and adolescent gender dysphoria services. It is my expert opinion that, if implemented, these proposals will cause great harm to young people. Moreover, in opening such poorly designed and unevidenced specifications to consultation and media commentary, NHS England has already caused harm.

The fact that this consultation is happening at all represents an enormous failure on the part of every professional involved.

I stepped down from the Gender Programme Board earlier this month due to clashes with my teaching schedule. However, given the severity of this situation, I would be remiss in my ethical duties if I did not also email you directly to share my concerns.

My three main areas of concern are:

  1. Social transition should not be subject to medical oversight. This would represent a gross abuse of power on the part of commissioners and practitioners. Choosing to wear different clothes, and possibly use a different name and/or pronouns – is a personal, non-medical decision related to a person exploring their identity and/or coming out. Preventing a young person from choosing a social transition amounts to an attempted conversion practice.
  2. Punishing young people and their families by subjecting them to investigation if they access private services will not help them access healthcare. Young trans people who access private healthcare in the UK or abroad generally due so due to the severity of NHS failures.  It will increase the likelihood of young people hiding the fact they are accessing external treatment from NHS clinicians, and of people turning to black-market hormone providers rather than private doctors. I am not sure that members of the Gender Programme Board are fully aware of how prevalent and dangerous the home-made substances already in circulation can be.
  3. Requiring that young people become research subjects as a condition of accessing treatment is completely unethical. This is a well-established principle in the trans health literature. There is no way in which you can truly obtain informed consent for research participation from individuals who will be denied healthcare if they refuse to participate. I fully support the expansion of NHS-funded research into trans healthcare, but participants must not be recruited through coercion.

I will end by inviting all recipients of this email to reflect on what they do not experience, and what they do not know.

Most members of the Gender Programme Board have not experienced gender incongruence or gender dysphoria.

Most members of the Gender Programme Board are not members of a trans community. It is likely therefore that you – even if you are a clinician – have never found yourself in a position where you are confronted with the true impact of NHS failings on young trans people who rely on community support. You do not know what it is like to be trying to look after many extremely damaged members of your community dealing with complex trauma and self-harm from people who have been repeatedly abused by NHS clinicians and processes. We, in the community, are the ones left picking up the pieces of your failings, finding ourselves on constant suicide watch and scrabbling to keep people alive. Invitations onto bodies such as the Gender Programme Board, where we are expected to be polite while fighting for scraps – only to be ignored – do not right these overwhelming wrongs.

It is now on you to rebuild trust.

Sincerely,

Ruth

Although this is specifically about the care of trans and gender non-conforming young people it does highlight much of what is currently wrong with NHS care, and indeed attitudes towards Trans and gender non-conforming people in the UK in general.

As so often happens with me, reading one thing on the internet leads to another and then another. This morning I discovered this YouTube video from Philosophy Tube. This takes it a bit further and through personal experience demonstrates so much of what is wrong in the NHS in general, and trans health care in particular. It is quite a long watch and can be a bit "challenging" in places, but I urge you to give it the time required, it is entertaining as well as informative. I don't necessarily agree with all her conclusions (but I mostly do), and her experience is not necessarily mine, but there are similarities. Certainly this is increasingly the experience of trans people seeking medical treatment in England at the moment (Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland have separate, if not better, systems).

Thursday, 24 November 2022

Looking Forward

Spring Bulbs RHS Rosemoor
One of the great things about gardeners is that we are always looking forward, much of our work is about making the gardens look good, or be productive, next season. Over the last few months I have been planting spring bulbs, pruning summer flowering shrubs, as well as clearing up leaves ~ not simply to make things look better now, but to allow the grass to "breath" so it gets off to a good start in the spring, and to make leaf mold for use next year. I suspect that works it's way into the rest of my life as well. At the moment I am planning my retirement, now I am in my mid-sixties I am finding work is becoming a little more arduous. Certainly, too much for me to manage every day and then expect to play music in the evening. So, my plan is to cut right down to just one day per week, I want to spend more time writing and arranging music, I want to go to exhibitions, I want to go to concerts I'm not playing in, I want to keep this blog up to date, maybe try some other writing as well.

Autumn Leaves is also one of my favorite songs 
This was all meant to be happening back in September, but as we now near the end of November I still haven't been able to put my plan fully into action. Certainly, I felt bad about leaving customers, but there have also been some added financial implications. I made all my plans on the basis of how much it cost me to live in 2021 ~ that budget is now well and truly blown out of the water! Just like everybody else my food, my electricity, my fuel, and everything else are costing more, it looks as though I may have to do a bit more than I had hoped ~ simply to keep the wolf from the door!

At the same time I am trying to do everything else as well. I am now regularly conducting three bands, while still playing with CSB and the LGSO, this Saturday afternoon I will be playing with Cross the Line blues band. Around the start of November I realised that I had at least one performance every weekend left this year, it's always busy in the lead up to Christmas but this year feels busier than ever ~ maybe it's just me getting older!

One of my bands has just introduced a new number into our repertoire, the Beatles song "When I'm Sixty Four" ~ for me it's too late I am 64! I won't ask if you still love me.

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

And I'm Back

I am perfectly prepared to claim that I am back by popular demand!

I recently took part in a young people's on line "Ask me Anything" session, it was a fascinating experience, and even though it was an LGBT+ group many of the questions were not ones I expected, at least one was "Why did I stop Blogging?" the answer was simply time!

Another recent development was an old ~ or should I say long standing? ~ friend found this blog post https://paula-paulasplace.blogspot.com/2015/02/get-with-program.html about my old youth orchestra the Croydon Youth Philharmonic Orchestra or CYPO for short. They shared the post on their own social media and there was a flurry of activity that has put me in touch with some more old friends. I think this might now be the most commented on post here. Given that next year is the 50th anniversary of this our inaugural concert (the subject of this post) and I was one of the very youngest in the orchestra we are all getting pretty old by now.

I have always led a bit of a charmed, or if you prefer blessed, life, first off I was born in September, making me one of the oldest in my school year, so in sport I was always one of the largest and strongest in my year group ~ a major advantage in my chosen sports ~ it also gives a bit of an academic advantage, although with my dyslexia I didn't really milk that particular one very well. I also managed to choose to play an instrument that nobody else in the Borough wanted to play, so I was able to join both the Schools Band and the Youth Orchestra way before I was really good enough. This meant that I had the benefit of sitting  next to to much better players and learning from some great tutors from a very early stage in my musical life.

It is that musical life that I am now hoping to concentrate a bit more on. I have cut my gardening business right back so there will be less pretty posts of the "My Office Today" type but I will carry on meandering through the various aspects of life as it confronts me. I am now MD of three different bands as well as playing to two others plus my Orchestra, so even though I might be cutting down in one area I am still just as busy as ever with everything else.

That's it for now, but I do have at least two other posts I have started and hope to have up soon, so please 

Watch This Space

Monday, 14 March 2022

My Office Today

 Just like buses, you  don't see one for months then two come along together!

Yesterday I played with the Kensington Philharmonic Orchestra, I was drafted in at the last moment as their regular tuba player had been struck down with the lurgy. They turned out to be friendly bunch, and there were a couple of familiar faces there which is always nice.

It was a great program starting with Sibelius's Finlandia ~ I certainly couldn't let them try to play this without a tuba. As I had an Allegra rehearsal in the morning I was unable to rehearse this with the orchestra but I think I have played it often enough to have "got away with it" in the concert!

I wasn't involved in the second piece, the rather sublime Strauss Oboe Concerto with Layla Baratto as the soloist. It always amazes me how anyone gets good at the oboe, it takes so long and so much effort before you can even make a nice sound, I am so glad that some persist, I enjoyed listening to this enormously.

After the interval we concluded with Sibelius' Second Symphony. I always find this a very difficult symphony to keep track of. In many ways it is a case of it not being the notes that are difficult, but the rests! Always a challenge, but to come in with less than a single full rehearsal, with an orchestra and conductor I've never worked with before this was certainly a test of my skills as a performer. I think we rose to the occasion and managed a good performance, the audience certainly enjoyed it!

The hall? another first for me, although I used to be a regular at the gym in the same building, have been a member of the library there, and attended a wedding at the adjoining Registry Office this was the first time I have actually been in the main hall, never mind performing there.

Welcome to the fabulous Chelsea Old Town Hall.


Friday, 11 March 2022

My Office Today

 It's a while since I've done one of these, maybe that's just down to the weather, and the simple fact that I haven't been doing much work recently.


Yesterday I managed a full day ~ Yipee ~ visiting two of my favourite gardens, these were all taken in one of them.




Friday, 4 March 2022

Camera Whore

 Maybe not the title I am most proud of but one I acquired a few years back when my Orchestra took part in the BBC series the Great British Amateur Orchestra. It seemed as though every time a camera appeared it would be pointing at me! and this did not go unnoticed. More recently in my role as a trustee of Croydon Pride I have often been called upon to be a representative of "my community" and on occasion that has involved some photos. I think I have now been the model in at least four photo sessions.

Photo Credit Justin David 2013
I was recently reminded of the first ~ this was way back in the dim and distant past, before I was out, but after I had started playing with the LGSO I wrote a little about it both here and here; but I did not tell the whole tale, perhaps to protect my dignity and maintain some of the mystery.

We were asked to wear our idea of glamourous, this black evening dress fits the bill perfectly. What this photo doesn't show is one of the great features of the dress, it has a scooped backless design that runs into a very small train. Given that this was before I had even started my social transition, never mind anything else it presented certain, erm "structural" issues. Being backless I could not wear a conventional bra, not actually having any boobs I couldn't wear any other form of support. What I could do was attach my breast forms directly to my chest using a medical glue.

All went well until under the warmth of the lights I started to "glow" (Ladies glow, gentlemen perspire, horses sweat!) no problem nothing showed on my face, my makeup stayed just fine. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for the so called "medical glue"! My left boob became detached and started to slowly descend down the inside of my dress. Poor Justin, the photographer, couldn't understand why I was so wooden, and at that time I was just too shy to tell him.

Later sessions didn't have the same issues I'm glad to say!

The next session was at home with my friend Vanessa Lees, I was part of a photo project she was running showing trans people just getting on with their real lives, rather than as subjects of glamour, desire or abuse.

Photo Credit Vanessa Lees Photography 2015

The Croydonist 2018
A few years after that I had a session for International Women's Day, we had a little outdoor exhibition of photos of women changing the face of Croydon, and this was my face. I rather like this photo, I definitely like the outfit, but I do remember that the photographer (sorry I can't remember their name to credit them) had terrible trouble with reflections from my glasses, so that's why they're on the end of my nose.

It was a very enjoyable experience and I was already so much more relaxed about the whole session than I had been just a few years earlier.

The latest one was just a few months later for Croydon Bid, the local traders association, an outdoor exhibition of local Croydon "Characters", I was alongside dancers, rock guitarists, actors etc. This time I was draping myself in the Pride flag rather than engaging with one of my instruments. I though this photo was just going to be a little thing up for maybe a month or two, it turned out to be larger than life size, and last time I checked it had been up for over two years.


Croydon Bid 2019






Thursday, 3 March 2022

Feeling a little horse

 I saw this and was immediately reminded of my post from a few days ago To be honest I'm never sure how many people "get" some of my references


Actually I do have a soar throat, not too debilitating though as I seem to be spending the day waiting for a parcel to be delivered. Very annoying as the TNT driver came this morning, didn't ring the bell but just put a card through the door.

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Fashions

This video is now a few months old, it's of a concert we played towards the end of lock down two in the summer of last year because of the restrictions of the time we used a reduced orchestra which in turn dictates the repertoire. In the LGSO we are very lucky to be able to put on big works. Not many amateur orchestras can put on some the big works we have played recently like the Rite of Spring or the Leningrad Symphony. I was not playing in this concert, because, well Mozart and Beethoven! I did very much enjoy being in the audience, I think it was one of our finest! Sometimes I wonder if we play the "big" works simply because we can and neglect so much great music because we are reluctant to exclude some players. Personally I really don't mind if the result is this good!


As a musician I am one of those animals known as a "Band Tart" ~ basically a reference to the fact that I'll play with anyone! At the moment I'm playing with an Orchestra and one band, regular conductor of two and guesting with another two. As well as keeping me busy this gives me a chance to keep up with different styles and trends within music. One of the joys of being a musician is that even though I have been playing for over 50 years now, there is still so much I haven't yet played. At our last orchestra concert I was actually playing in every movement of every piece ~ that's almost unheard of, indeed I can't remember the last time that happened to me! Not only was I busy but there was not one piece I had played before. On of these pieces was the Florence Price first Symphony. It is a fine piece of music and the writer was a remarkable character over coming so much simply to get her music played. This week I have come across at least two other orchestras that are working on this same piece. The same happened a few years ago with Shostakovich 7 "The Leningrad", not played for years then several performances close together.

The same thing happens with concert bands, for some reason a particular piece or composer will suddenly hit popularity and do the rounds. At the moment Goff Richard's march "Barnard Castle" is particularly popular. In Brass Bands it is often the selection of contest test pieces that will trigger a trend but I suspect that in all cases is it us "Band Tarts" who will say I played so and so with such and such a band that will put the piece in peoples minds.

It seems to be the same in blogs ~ I have just looked at a few of the Trans Blogs I follow and have noticed a number of them are talking about motivations and experience of transition, not the process, but the motivations. I suspect that we all read each others blogs and get inspired by each other. Well I think for now I will resist the temptation to write about my transition yet again ~ as my wife once observed with great enthusiasm "Not every thing is about gender!"

At the moment I choose to look to the future rather than reflect on the past ~ think about the music I want to play next, and the next great adventure in my life.

Friday, 25 February 2022

A Post With No Name

It's been a few days (well ten actually) since my last post, it's not that I've been idly sitting on my hands not writing or doing anything, unsurprisingly I have found myself rather busy! Not too much gardening, but I have a lot going on on the music front at the moment ~ and that's the way I like it. In some ways it almost feels that as though  as I am starting to wind down my gardening business in anticipation of at least semi-retirement later this year a whole new career conducting may be opening up.

For the next few weeks as well as playing with the Horsham Borough Band in a couple of brass band competitions, a concert with the Croydon Symphonic Band, rehearsals conducting Croydon Brass and Allegra Concert Bands, building up to a concert with LGSO and trying to fit in some time with my Jazz/Blues band I will also be conducting the Phoenix Concert Band. I have no wish to benefit from others misfortunes, but I have been asked to step in on a temporary basis while their regular MD is unavailable.

Phoenix are a local band made up largely of "Adult Learners", there are plenty of opportunities for young players through schools bands and youth music groups, there are plenty of opportunities for more accomplished adult players with community bands and and established groups, but for those who are taking up a new instrument or learning to play music for the first time there are less opportunities. Phoenix is a groups set up specifically to allow these people space to improve their playing. This will be a slightly different sort of band for me, but I'm really looking forward to joining them all for the first time this evening as we work towards a concert in just two weeks time!

The big news all around the World at the moment is of course the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I do not plan to comment much, there are plenty of wiser, more informed commentators around to do that, until one of them would have been my friend Sophie. Only recently did I add a link to her blog here, her foul mouthed comments and rants were always underlaid with wisdom, knowledge and experience belying some of her rather punk vocabulary. Over the last couple of years we grew to know each other better as I was pleased to be able to help her as her mobility became more limited. I knew she was not well ~ as did all her friends, but it still came as a great shock to us all to hear that she had died quite suddenly last week. All of us who knew her will miss her rambling random phone calls, her iconoclastic rants and her very good company.

I will leave the link here for a while yet, I just don't want to "delete her"