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Accidental Genius: Vegan Okonomiyaki Recipe

There’s nothing quite like flinging together a meal (be quiet I will blog about writing again soon and you will wish to God I hadn’t) and having it turn out far, far better than you expected, especially when typically your attempts to fling together a meal end in swearing and pans full of hot fat flinging themselves off the gas hob with the express intention of murdering you.

The crux of this, very simple and delicious main piece is that besan/gram flour (chickpea flour) is possibly the most wonderful thing the world has ever produced, and turns into a thick, extremely adhesive paste the minute it touches something moist. It starts pretty much the same as the besan/courgette two-ingredient pancake, but is rather more tasty.

Vegan okonomiyaki, rice paper steamed veg and mushroom balls, steamed kale and soy-fried turnip crisps, and a matcha mochi daifuku from the Japan Centre

You will need:

5 tsbp sieved besan/gram flour
50g of finely grated courgette/zucchini
100g Tesco Vegetable Base Mix (or just… look at the ingredients in that and blender your own)
1 tsp of whatever spice mix most appeals to you. I tend to make my own and then leave them in unlabelled jars because common sense, what is that, so I can’t really tell you what I just used, only that it was delicious
1/2 tsp baking powder
salt
pepper
cooking spray/a tiny amount of oil
1 non-stick saucepan or wok or whatever as long as it’s non-stick, has deep sides and a lid.
Spatula
Something for mixing in
A thing to make your pan hot (hot plate, hob, paraffin stove).

What you do:

  1. Mix everything (except the oil) together in a bowl with the spatula until you have a thick paste.
  2. Make your pan hot.
  3. Put the paste in the bottom of the pan and spread it out until it is flat.
  4. Put the lid back on the pan and turn down the heat and leave it for a while.
  5. When the thing is firm, flip it over with the spatula and turn the heat up a little to cook the other side for a while.
  6. Lob this thing on a plate and adorn however you want. Congrat, you have a vegan okonomiyaki. My guess is that if you’re more of a fan of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, it’s possible to chuck in the mandatory layer of yakisoba.

BONUS: waist-watchers and calorie-counters will be pleased to hear that this whole reasonably large centrepiece clocks in at a whopping 145 calories.

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On Being The Demented Consumer Product You Want To See In The World

Oh no, more blogging about Packetsu?

Oh yes, more blogging about Packetsu.

Look, I’m really, truly sorry about this, but ever since I realised I can make okayu and various other dishes in a Thermos jar, the desire to use one as the basis for that ridiculous system has been unstoppable. I mean, now that I’ve discovered you can buy ones with a microwaveable insert, rendering them perfect for pretty much any approach to office-based cooking, that does seem like a ready solution to rice-or-egg-or-pulse-based meals [for things that don’t need to hold the heat in for as long I suppose one can just commandeer a cardboard cup, like the ones Itsu use for their instant noodles].

And well, the thing is, I bought some nonsense from Jbox.com. I went there looking for candy bento boxes and discovered that in addition to this they sell tiny, pocket-sized bag sealers. As in the little heat up things you put a battery into and squeeze along cellophane packets in order to form a sealed edge that can be ripped open easily?

The final nails in the “wasn’t this supposed to be buyable from shops, wasn’t that the whole point” coffin was two separate grocery-shopping discoveries: Morrisons sell this pre-mixed dried vegetables, pasta and barley which really just needs to sit in hot water for a while, and places like Nuts.com have started selling freeze-dried vegetables.

One bag sealer. Spice mix. Seaweed. 30g of rice (to make around 80/100g, or one serving), and 30g of pasta mix (to make 80g, around one serving). This is either going to be the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship (preferably one that relies less heavily on spending a fortune on instant Pho tubs), or it’s going to be a fucking disaster.

If you’re staring at this wondering what exactly is revolutionary about putting some rice in a bag, and why I can’t just cook something and take it in a lunchbox/bento, or at least make one premix and stop hurting the environment with multiple bags, I would like to invite you to consider the following imagination exercises:

  1. What if I change my mind at the last minute and decide I want to eat something else?
  2. What if I change my mind about one part of my meal just before leaving the house and want to swap something out?
  3. What if I want to have a choice of meals without carrying multiple flipping lunchboxes?
  4. What if I want to have multiple meals?
  5. Until my idiotic country can manage to do things like meet clean air targets and stop removing subsidies for renewable energy and commit to sorting out the energy profiles of new buildings, and large product producers can switch to already-existing biodegradable and edible plastics alternatives, I’m not assuming sole personal responsibility for The Environment on the basis of using a battery-operated heat-sealer on one cellophane lollipop bag.
  6. Also, fuck off.

Yes, it’s fiddly and annoying and not what I wanted but thank you, large brands, for not actually muscling in on my Packetsu idea, because at least this way I can save a damn fortune making my own system work.

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Thermos Jar Cooking Part 2

So after I crashed in following a long silence (I’ve been busy doing fuck all! It’s very important) to explain that you can boil an egg in a Thermos Jar, an important discovery for someone who eats as many eggs as I do (did you know you can also wok-steam eggs in the top of a stir-fry or soup? Did you know you can bake eggs in the oven and cook them in a microwave and that I would probably have some weird protein deficiency if I didn’t remember to eat eggs occasionally because I keep forgetting there are food groups which aren’t “vegetable”?), vegan friend and Two-Fisted Librarian Matthew informed me that “couscous is another easy thing you can make”.

Now personally I consider it a crisis situation if I have to eat couscous. It’s not in my top fifty “things I want to eat”. It’s improved by sauces and so on and generally not being presented plain and with herbs on it while so dry that you can feel it forming angry clay in your stomach, which is how I consumed it as a young ‘un, but the association is strong and I’d Prefer Not To. One of the great things about being an adult is that unless there are no other options you can Prefer Not To and not eat something. You don’t have to invent a food intolerance or fake your own death or have an important moral reason not to, you can genuinely just say “nah, not into it”. Amazing!

But I do like other grain-type-things. I mean, I basically live on rice these days.

Previous experiments with microwave-your-own-rice contraptions, which ended in defeat and a very large microwave rice cooker, and then later in just caving in and buying a proper rice cooker in which you can make ALMOST ANYTHING IMAGINABLE (I am still not over this, you can make CAKE and OMELETTE and SOUP, I bet you could bake a fucking potato in one), have taught me that I am still thirsting/hungering for a way to make a small portion of rice without inconveniencing myself.

Which is where Matthew’s comment about the Thermos Jar comes in: the minimum amount of rice you can cook in my blindingly wonderful mini rice cooker is given as “80” on the measuring cup. I assume this means 80ml. It is hard to tell. It is merely “80”. One is advised not to use a smaller amount.

Now I’ve just done an unscientific experiment with the trusty Thermos Jar What I Got From A Charity Shop For A Quid (it rattles) in which I was also boiling an egg, and lobbed in a tablespoon of sushi rice To See What Would Happen, because one of the other things about being a grown-up is that I can decide to do things like that. Sometimes this results in horrifying experiences and sometimes it results in delicious ones. This time, pouring boiling water into a Thermos Jar, sealing it, and then fucking off to watch David Attenborough talking about plants for a longer time than intended resulted in something else, i.e. cooked rice.

I plan to try again and work out which proportion of uncooked rice to hot water is necessary to get just rice and no leftover liquid after expansion and whether stirring dashi in as well gets a good, even distribution, but I have reasonable hopes that you can, in fact, cook rice in a Thermos.

[If this turns out to be the case I’m seeing a certain application for those who want to have a hot lunch at work and don’t have a microwave, or those who, as mentioned before, cannot really afford to have something running on electricity for the time it takes to make a hot meal].

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One more exciting thing you can do with a kettle

It turns out there’s a lot of recipes that require you to boil things in a pan which are, broadly speaking, lying. Lots of instant noodle recipes, for example. A whole swathe of things can be made without a constant source of heat, which means saving money on electricity, something people might be interested in given the cost of UK energy bills, and levels of poverty. So if you’re subsisting on cups of tea and surreptitiously charging your phone at power sockets in Wetherspoons (don’t worry, we’ve all done it), you may be pleased to share in my recent discovery:

You don’t need a constant source of heat to boil eggs.

I found this out because I am weeaboo scum and spend forever on gift sites looking at kitchen gadgets which I then either fail to buy because haha what is money, or do buy and then never use because hahah what is money. In a fair and equitable universe I would be subsisting on cups of tea, not you.

This thing. You put eggs in it and then put hot water in it and then close it and leave it.

Obviously this thing is ludicrously expensive, single-use, and pointless (like all my favourite kitchen shit, before I decide to repurpose it: you can make basically anything in a rice cooker, for example). But when I looked at it and at the instructions it occurred to me that this was, effectively, a Thermos jar.

One of these.

I have one of these, because I bought one in a charity shop for a quid. I am quietly confident that others can be obtained via this route, or acquired from nice people who don’t want theirs, or, frankly, pinched off the back of a lorry. If you have one already, so much the better.

The trick is very simple.

You take an egg.

You put the whole egg in the Thermos jar.

You boil 1 cup of water in the kettle.

You pour the boiling water into the Thermos jar.

You put the lid back on and seal it.

And then you ignore it for however long you like. I left a selection of small (quail) eggs in mine for well over an hour and the water was still toasty and the eggs, when removed, were hard-boiled and hot. The Thermos keeps the eggs warm as well as the water they’re cooking in!

The other thing about this is you can ask for a cup of hot water in a (coffee) shop, and generally get one for free, providing the staff are not arseholes. It may not be boiling, but you can achieve the same effect.

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Recipe: Christmas Kitchari

Winter’s revolting. Don’t argue with me about this, we all know it’s true. I need to have words with my ancestors: a) why did you leave the tropics, you selfish insane bastards and b) why did you have to be complicit in arsing up some perfectly nice countries that I could otherwise have resided in, away from torrential rain and miserable cold and the sky getting dark at THREE IN THE AFTERNOON?

Dreadful bollocks. Best avoided. Draw up a cup of Luke Cage because I’m about to explain what else you can do with that gingerbread spice pre-mix to make your life better. Also to make it taste of Christmas; excitingly, this meal is also potentially a One Pot Wonder, and it’s 100% vegan and gluten-free. Ideal for fussy people who would also like to feel warm and fed.

Serves one hungry person and stops them being hungry:

You will need

Base

  • 100g canned lentils
  • 100g canned chickpeas
  • 100g canned/cartoned black beans (you can also use red kidney beans)
  • 80g short-grain rice, ie. sushi rice, soaked for as long as you’re told to soak it for.
  • 1 tsp gingerbread spice pre-mix* divided into two half teaspoons.
  • vegetable stock cube
  • 1 tbsp oil, I used toasted sesame because that’s what I had
  • 1/4 of a white onion, chopped
  • Handful of pumpkin seeds
  • Half a handful of sesame seeds
  • Optional: slice of lemon
  • Optional: bay leaf

Topping

  • a couple of moderately-sized leaves of rainbow chard or other winter green, sliced up wee
  • spring onion/scallion, chopped
  • 1 baby courgette, chopped (or equivalent amount)
  • 1 small handful/half handful of mixed dried fruit like wot you get in cake mixes at this time of year. Or dates or apricots or whatever, I am not the boss of your food choices.

NB: the topping is pretty much mix and match with just… dark greens that wilt.

  • Yuzu sauce/lemon juice/something liquid and citrus.

You will also need:

  • 1 hopefully non-stick saucepan with a non-ventilated lid
  • A spatula
  • A thing for making the saucepan hot like a hob or a hotplate or a bunsen burner or a pet dragon
  • Optional: I also used a rice cooker
  • Optional: and a goddamn chef’s pan because I have no regard for washing up right now. None.

What the hell am I doing?

  1. Cook up that rice with 1/2 tsp of gingerbread spice pre-mix and the vegetable stock cube in the water. You want to get the rice to absorb all the water and thus all the spices etc; I did this with a rice cooker because “rolling boil” is something I haven’t mastered but “scraping burnt rice off the bottom of a pan” is practically my middle name, or it would be if it wasn’t Edward.
  2. Put that rice to one side.
  3. Fry up the onion in the oil at the bottom of your saucepan, with the other 1/2 tsp of gingerbread spice pre-mix.
  4. Wang in the beans, lentils, chickpeas, and seeds, with yer lemon slice and bay leaf if you’re using them, give it a vigorous stir (or an anaemic one, whatever your stir style), and drop the lid.
  5. Let that bubble away to itself.
  6. I used another pan to give the spring onions, courgette slices, and chard a quick pre-fry (is that called sautéing? Mother? I have absolutely no idea what any of the cooking words are). You don’t, strictly speaking, need to do this.
  7. Take the rice and spread it out over the top of the beans and so on. Tamp it down a bit. If you’re using an 800ml pan (I was) this will give you a nice thick layer covering the whole thing.
  8. Now put the green vegetables in on top, drop in your dried fruit, put the lid back down, turn the temperature down a bit and make a cup of tea.
  9. Just as you’re about ready to start drinking your cup of tea the thing should be ready – check the leaves are looking appropriately wilty.
  10. Chuck it in a bowl, take out your lemon slice and bay leaf, season with yuzu sauce/lemon juice.

* If you’re too lazy/using your phone, here’s the gingerbread spice pre-mix again:

To make one small spice jar’s worth

  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (for some reason this is often hard to find, but you can buy it on Amazon, and if you’re in Europe ubiquitous cheapo chain store Tiger often sell it)
  • 1 tsp ground cloves (again often tricky but keep trying, it’s worth it)
  • Optional: a pinch of black pepper, a pinch of wattleseed

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Recipe/Mocktail: I’m calling this the Luke Cage

Because it tastes of “Sweet Christmas”.

No, you’re a nerd.

(Please don’t spoil me I’m only halfway through Jessica Jones and it’s been long enough since I read Alias that can’t remember what happens so please don’t spoil me, my friends are already doing a terrible job at not spoiling me).

Also let’s not bother asking where I’ve been for the whole of November. I’ve been writing a book. I have now finished the book. [170,000 words, thank you for asking]. Also let’s not ask how I think that went because at the end of any given manuscript all I can think is “thank God that’s over, please let me die in peace now”. I also … I’m pretty sure this is actually the longest manuscript I’ve ever produced in a sub-thirty day period so my brain is soup.

The Luke Cage

This makes two servings.

You will need:

  • 1/2 a lemon with the peel off, chopped in four
  • 1/2 an orange with the peel off, chopped in six
  • 2 tsp of gingerbread spice mix *
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • Handful of mixed dried fruit/peel like you can buy for making Christmas pudding.

You will also need:

  • Blender
  • Teapot insert/tea-strainer/muslin type thing
  • Mug
  • Kettle

(I used one of those cheapo versions of a NutriBullet, that worked pretty well. You need to add water for that).

Anyway, whizz all of that around in your blender until it is sludge.

Put half of the sludge in a tea strainer or a muslin or whatever and put that in a mug. Boil some water, pour that through it and let it stew a minute. Drain it, add more honey to taste, boom, hot mocktail.

Also if you want to enbooze it, I did the second serving with a shot of Writers’ Tears (appropriate) and spiced rum. Great stuff for an evening where the wind decided to throw buckets of water at the front of my house for some reason…


 

* Gingerbread spice premix, I have a jar of this knocking around at all times:

  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (for some reason this is often hard to find, but you can buy it on Amazon, and if you’re in Europe ubiquitous cheapo chain store Tiger often sell it)
  • 1 tsp ground cloves (again often tricky but keep trying, it’s worth it)
  • Optional: a pinch of black pepper, a pinch of wattleseed

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The Alchemy of Reading.

An anti-abstract: I’m not going to use this post to talk about people who deliberately misinterpret Barthes in order to give a psychological assessment to long-dead authors and put words into the mouths of living ones, Tumblr. That would be pointless, and it wouldn’t be fun.

An abstract: I’m going to talk about what I think reading, or indeed watching, or any form of apparently one-sided, supposedly non-interactive communicative art is.

What is reading?

What a bizarre question. What happens when you read something?

Well, your brain makes an attempt to decode the verbal and visual encoding of non-verbal ideas and emotions encoded by someone else’s brain into that medium in an attempt to communicate those ideas to another person, like so:

(Image originates here)

That little overlap in the middle is to do with shared cultural references, experiences in common (whether culturally expected, like Western children being expected to have some experience of “Christmas”, or universal human experiences, like having a poo), common observations, and of course shared language, whether that language is verbal (I am talking to you in English because my attempts to learn any other languages so far have led to hysterically funny failure; I am a bear of very little brain), or non-verbal (semiotics, sociomusicology, have at you).

When you read, you are trying to extract meaning from a meaning-carrying device primed by someone else.

Reading is a creative act.

In order to read, you create a new universe.

The foundations of that universe are laid in the head or heads of the creator/s of the meaning-carrying device. A code is laid down to be read, a set of instructions to the brain which are both direct and descriptive (“I have hit my foot”, said Peter.) and figurative and evocative (The red fog enveloped Peter’s heart as he swore at the throbbing mass his foot had become.); direct and descriptive code relies a little on shared experience (we assume you have hit your foot, know what a foot is, and what hitting it entails), filling in gaps (it is most likely Peter did not deliberately strike his foot with his own hand, and that he has bumped it against something unnamed, probably while in motion), and so on. Figurative and evocative code requires more faith in the shared experience with the reader, and shared cultural references (red is equal to anger, fog is absence of clarity in thought due to emotional upheaval, we know that Peter’s foot is still a foot but the sensation of pain has transfigured it on an experiential level).

When code is laid down it is inert. A film that is not watched and a book that is not read have no meaning. They have potential meaning, in the way that a rock balanced on top of a gantry has potential energy. This is authorial intent. Without anyone to read it, the intent has no function.

When a reader comes to a text they decode it, but this term implies a simple undoing of the coding process.

What actually takes place is creative interpretation of the code, and in the process of this, a story, or version, is created. Sometimes these deviate drastically from the intended content of the code.

No two stories/versions of the same code are the same.

Every person’s reading of a text, every reading by the same person of the same text, is unique, regardless of what shared opinion of the text they come in with.

How?

Because no two people are the same, and what causes a particular interpretation and emotional reaction – alchemical reaction – is the amalgamation of every single experience, thought, belief, and resonance that one person has had throughout their life, which will inevitably pick out different emphases among the text and trigger different emotional experiences, memories, prejudices, and fears.

In literary criticism, in order to present an interpretation of the text as valid it must be supported with evidence from the text and an argument which convinces and which typically draws on an accredited theoretical framework, or builds it own. In reading, all interpretations are valid, and equally valid, and no one reader’s interpretation may supersede another’s by virtue of authority alone. In fact, the attempt to communicate the experience of reading creates another story/version, that of the experience-telling, which exists between the various readers of the work, and at second-hand, as a catalyst, the creator of the work.

In other words, the story created in the interaction between the creator/s of a work and each individual reader is a private and unique story as it is experienced by the reader. This act of creation is not duplicated, not possible to share in its entirety with anyone, and is not owned by the work’s creator (they only made the code to be read), and not owned by the reader (they brought their self and attendant experiences to the code to read it, but the code is not theirs). It exists independently of both.

Each reading is a temporary and private work of art.

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Conversations On How To Write

(Further self-important essays on the writing process and advise and exercises can be found in How Not To Write By Someone Who Doesn’t)


 

In the depths of the hellish night shift the brain has time to mull over problems not typically considered in a busier, more sunlit atmosphere. In my case I’m lucky enough that there’s someone in the opposite time-zone to me who is also frequently bored in charge of a computer, and has her head screwed on when it comes to the business of writing.

You’ll have to excuse the regular descent into internet vernacular with attendant poor grammar (on my part), spelling, and punctuation. There’s been a tiny amount of censorship and explanation but on the whole I wanted to maintain the authenticity of the original discussion, mostly conducted between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 in the morning in between hating the national press.

Your host, I (YHI): it’s much easier to think when answering questions too

Extraordinary Comic Maker (ECM): yeah, like.. breaking it down into it’s parts to assemble sentences, from nebulous thought into structure, even as it’s growing, helps with untangling and identifying gaps and obvious problems.

This is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of “oh, I won’t answer that question until I’ve done some research/thinking”; I find that in answering a question on the fly it’s a lot easier to bring together elements that are bubbling away beneath the surface and get to a more concrete solution than by toiling away alone in the dark.

YHI: Yes! And in explaining it to someone else, one has to have an idea of what one means. It can be very helpful for filling in the gaps, as you say.

ECM: Yeah, always special to try to explain something and then go …????  I have no idea what I’m trying to describe???

YHI: I find the act of trying solidifies things, possibly due to my DESPERATE NEED to sound like I know what I’m talking about at all times, and suddenly all of the vague “I hadn’t really thought about it’s” turn into “QUICK PULL SOMETHING OUT OF YOUR ASS SO PEOPLE DON’T REALISE HOW DUMB YOU ARE”. Amazing what a panicked ego can achieve.

Personally I’m a big fan of hacking the worst aspects of my personality in order to make things which are usually grotesquely self-destructive work in my favour. I may not be able to change the fact that I’m defeatist, ego-centric, and pathetically keen to sound intelligent at all times, but I can at least work on bending those personality traits into helping me to persist and achieve at least small goals!

Fortunately, ECM knows what I’m talking about:

ECM: Necessity, panic, something, invention? Ohhhhhhhh I know that one. A bit like the “I like how you did x, and how it parallels y” “YES, YES THAT WAS INTENTIONAL, YEAH. (???!!!!!)”

For what it’s worth, I think a lot of the instances of “yes, yes, that was intentional” are at least subconsciously so:

YHI: ah, my old friend “i think that was wholly subconscious but i’m going to pretend i’m totes that clever”

The discussion moved onto the specifics of world-building for a while:

YHI: so useful to have intercultural conflict even between characters which get on – it’s just not a realistic representation of sentience otherwise

At which point ECM gloriously and brilliantly climbed onto a soapbox which I can’t articulate half as well, and I’m going to give you her response in full to mull over for your own writing projects, because she nails so accurately the real core of creating a believable, meaty, weight world:

ECM:

And yeah, it’s the thing of not wanting to make people too reasonable or emotionally competent. And there should always be more stories about people of different backgrounds and cultures mixing in positive or at least non hostile ways and still being people – that is, a bit dickish and self involved, getting on best when there is a shared goal, running into each other when stress is high, more forgiving and able to handle offence and upset when well rested and secure, more willing to admit guilt when they trust each other, able to compromise but not all the time.
I dunno. I understand all the reasons why fiction matters, that nothing is without ideology in some way, but… arg. People are dickheads and it’s not the end of days. People hurt through well meaning and indifference and spite and and sometimes it doesn’t matter in the slightest and other times it does. Aaaand for the most part people just do not give a shit.
I don’t want tedious ‘if onlys and should be-s’ and I don’t want nightmare ‘if you’re not carefuls’. Not exactly reality but something that breaths, that is recognizable as real, if out of focus, perhaps more interior. Like dreams – moments of sharp focus and lots of dim movement and shapes and knowings.
I want this world to have big difficult powers that wear lots of hats, and the rage felt by not being able to see your enemy, of being under attack and going out of you mind to find the source of the sharp pains that come for invisible sources. And I want these big powers to be mortal and fallible. Always on the brink of finally becoming too arrogant and blind to survive, but mean and determined enough to get where they are. For this universe to heave and shift and everyone just try to hang on and make dinner and a life.
And I want it to over exposed and desperate and cold and quiet. Very very big. Deep, wide, shifting. Big structures that change the shape but not the texture. Things decaying even as they’re built. And new life, always life, thriving and struggling and fucking and getting in it’s own way. No great answer no great conclusion just more of the same until it all ends. Horror and beauty and fart jokes. No right answers and nothing beyond hope and it’s all indifference and bitter unfairness. No special ones. Absolutely no special ones. Not and ideal universe but a universe that has – and fails to live up to it’s – ideals. And for it all to have some fucking bite.
“Horror and beauty and fart jokes”, possibly the greatest manifesto heading you can ask for.
YHI: it makes sense and your ambitions are narratively speaking deeply worthy… i mean, imo, what you’ve set out to do is encompass the entire realistic human experience as painted on a broader canvas, hugely ambitious and right. you can’t just detach any part of existence from all others and have it make sense, the whole machine of environment and prejudice and interaction and history has come together to make every single moment and quirk, right? so the engine of story you’re building is functional and accurate, unlike the “i’d like it to be this colour and the details can just go spit” approach people take most of the time.
Back to specifics:
ECMI think this story will live and die on how emotionally believable the story is
YHI: All stories worth reading live and die on that. Emotionally unbelievable stories may have technical perfection but no one ever loves them.
And then, my dear audience, she asked me a whole bunch of questions.

How do you manage the emotional integrity of a story?
you keep drawing on the depth of your characters until they feel like real people, you get a template of them in your head and then you drag them out of their depth and bang them into each other; as long as none of their responses feel inauthentic you know it’s working out. sometimes the plot has to change as you go along because the characters have their own life and just won’t do the thing you’ve said they should… it’s usually best to listen at this point. it’s a pretty organic way of working admittedly but you can’t force things. if a character refuses reconciliation and goes for a big sacrifice that’s just what it’s in them to do…

When do you know a story is done?
there’s a shape stories have. it’s usually sometime after the lowest point. there’s about three “lowests”, and the absolute lowest is followed by an up-tick, where there’s a kind of cool moment of calm or stasis, usually with the promise that something will happen, but not just yet… that’s where the plot ends. That’s the end of that story. [the “something” that’s about to happen can be of another order of magnitude, dr who is quite a good reference point for this – old dr who anyway. sarah waters is with me on that one]. in terms of “ready to be written” done-ness it’s usually when the fucking thing starts writing itself; the characters start talking and won’t shut up, you’ve assembled something so lively that the narration is burping its way into quiet moments of your life, and the wretched infection has to be written or you will not get a moment’s peace. as soon as i can “hear” it clearly i know it’s approaching readiness.

Dialogue? How?

let characters talk to each other in your head, write down what they say, remove approximately 90% of it so that it doesn’t take up four thousand pages. if they won’t talk to each other write about the way they’re not talking to each other and what they interpret from the silences. throw in raymond chandler’s man with a gun to make them interact if necessary. the way i approach it, at least, they should be a) out of water enough to behave beyond the limits of normality as a result of plot events, and b) so well-fleshed that their responses to events can be relied upon to be natural; dialogue follows as a result of that. to take what you’re working on as an example: someone bursts in and demands to see the navigator, clearly not knowing who that is, while [REDACTED, a character specific to ECM’s project] is standing right there. what does he say? what do they say? what information are they trying to convey and how is their ability to convey that impeded by [REDACTED, a character specific to ECM’s project] being a moody bitch at them? eavesdropping conversations was something i was taught to do both in theatre school and on various writing courses, and i did some audio typing work for a friend who needed her phd interviews transcribing; if you spend a little time writing down verbatim what people say to each other (then remove all the fucking repetition and 99% of the hesitations and at least some of the circumlocution) it helps to internalise what natural speech patterns sound like and what kind of character they’re attached to. the aim is to be able to determine who is talking without any attribution [and once you’ve got it settled you can play with it, having people speak in a way that is not natural, and which therefore makes readers feel unsettled].

Single thing you wrote/created that you’re most proud of?

usually this is just “the most recent thing i’ve written and didn’t hate”, and currently really is the case, i have genuine confidence that [it] is probably the most well-constructed and emotionally broad thing, the least over-indulgent thing i’ve written to date. but it’s not ready.

Work that you most admire? 

for clarity of vision and character stability, pat barker’s regeneration books. for character voice lolita and the book i’m reading at the moment [this was The Debt To Pleasure, which i wholly recommend]; for break-neck pacing and sheer excitement, glass books; for abject poetry and management of delicate clue-laying and emotional sadism on an incredible scale mary renault – her touch is so light you sometimes have to read and reread to get all of the layers, and the rhythm of her sentences occasionally makes me angry because they’re so WELL BALANCED AND JUST. TOO GOOD. – there are a lot of works where the concept is just mind-blowing but i have no idea if it’s a technical thing or if it’s simply ideas that resonate with me.

What do you find to be the most useful thing to know about a character?

It kind of varies on the character, which is bewilderingly unhelpful, I know. Currently I’ve found things like: the book I’m planning has a major character for whom singing was an important part of his life until various events took place, and now he has lost both that and his very strong religious faith. What has proven to be the key in unlocking him in my head is not this, nor his relationship with his family, but what his voice sounds like now. It changed his look in my head and made him an individual character with his own life. Learning which swear words another character favoured as given me her voice. In [the most recent project] it was getting to grips with how [a major character] felt about his position as a golden boy and what effect that had had on his confidence and also recklessness; sometimes I have to keep prodding a character because they feel flat and weird and wrong and something has to be changed about them and I’m never sure what it’s going to be. But there needs to be a handle onto which I can hang in order to make them solid.

Favourite part of the writing process?

I realise I’m in the minority here but THE ACTUAL WRITING. I hate having a wrestling match with my brain trying to plot things. Once all that is in place the scenes usually just write themselves. It’s like running down hill fast or, at some points, like hitting the crest of a rollercoaster. Fantastic feeling, highly worth it just to submerge myself in a totally different reality that I’m also getting to shape without feeling like it’s me doing it? I think part of the reason it is usually not so hard to write the actual content is that by the time I get started I’ve spent so long with the characters/world that there’s no concern about voice or reality. But easily that “god this stuff is just pouring out of me” sensation.
What writing skill/part of your writing are you most pleased with?

I can guarantee that as soon as I focus on something here I will become dissatisfied with it. Previously I’d have said character voice diversity, but I’ve been on an editing read recently and I’m convinced all my characters sound like me. I guess the ability to provide a sense of place without going overboard on details? Not sure if that’s something I actually manage or if I just leave people floundering in white space though. Oh, emotional impact. I’m okay with that.
What do you find the hardest/want to most improve?
Nuts and bolts: I cannot pace for shit. I have real trouble with cause and effect, my endings are ropy, there is little to get plot resolution happening as a result of character actions rather than as something that happens to them – I suffer from chronic Passive Protagonist Disorder and I don’t think it’s going to clear up until I start writing a different sort of protagonist and that’s not happening until I sort out some mental issues. WHICH IS EMBARRASSING, FRANKLY.

In your opinion, what do you think makes a good protagonist? Or at least a compelling/effective one?
My friend [REDACTED], with whom I disagree about a lot of things, said something very good on this: he said if he has made it through a book for 100 pages and he doesn’t care whether the protagonist gets his heart’s desire or has an anvil dropped on him, the book is lousy and the protagonist is lousy. I am inclined to agree. They need to provoke some kind of strong emotion, even if it is just curiosity, and no matter how repellent they are as a person you need to want them to be in your field of “vision” – you have to want to know what they’re up to, what will happen to them. In effect a species of charm, even if it’s achieved by them being horrifyingly charmless.

More annoyingly the consensus of writing books, which I am less inclined to agree with, is that a protagonist has to be active. Things have to happen because of something they’ve done. I’m kind of a fan of the “giant events far beyond the protagonist’s control” approach as well, if only because a) the universe works that way, and b) I think the individualist, non-fatalistic hero is probably a modern/western invention to a degree. So Budgie’s edict, yes.
 
what is a protagonist that you would like to write?

a total fucking shit. I want to be able to write someone with whom I have almost nothing in common and with whom i disagree massively, and still care what happens to them. i want to be able to make myself sympathise with them and care what happens to them, the way that better authors have made me done with complete shit protagonists. in a slightly pseudo-religious sense i think it’s actively important to humanise The Other so that we learn to accept a diversity of viewpoints as being human even as we try to change their views, to approach them as mutable rather than alien and only worthy of destruction and hatred. which means i at some point need to overcome my cowardice relating to being misinterpreted as sharing the views of characters i write, i suppose.
What the most useful thing to keep in mind when going for emotional impact?

  1. small and personal trumps massive and wide-reaching – even if you’re writing about wide-reaching things bring the focus down onto as small a group of people as possible. choose individuals and write about them, pick individual moments rather than a stream – panels/snapshots, not trying to capture the whole event. the glory of the human imagination is that we will fill in the gaps with whatever’s most affecting to us, and the work being done by the reader will surpass anything a writer can do on their own.definitely worth remembering that the consumption of Story is a collaborative act.
  2. i know people go on and on and on about “show, don’t tell”, but it is really important in this area; you only need to devote a sentence or two to the description of an emotion and the rest should be the physical or whatever effects on the character, how they appear, the sensation of that. also with describing an emotion metaphor’s usually helpful? like “mike was sad” blows chunks unless you’re going to contrast it to him either a) being demonstrably not sad (irony) or b) being demonstrably totally fucking devastated (understatement). meanwhile, “mike was hit by a breaking wave of sadness” (or whatever works with your own idiom) is something which makes the experience relatable. “sad” is nebulous. “agony” is relative. “hot needles of shame breaking out in his cheeks” is something most of us are familiar with on a visceral level.
  3. pacing really fucking matters. you can’t pull an immediate emotional impact out of the bag without some build-up – it will just fall flat. you can have tension ticking along in the background of other scenes as you move onto different topics with this “what will happen” hanging over people’s heads, you can twist and bend the narrative however you want, but if you don’t give the moment of emotional impact the space it needs to grow it will just fall flat. also, be wary of either a) getting it over with too quickly – people need to be able to process it and it will feel flat if you just rush past it, or b) dragging it out like you’re milking the damn thing. mawkishness will make readers resent the shit out of it and stop caring both about the event and about the characters.
  4. something that i’ve been writing on my angry post-its to my former self as i go through the first editing pass on my last MS has been “seed this”. it means making sure there are sufficient roots for an event or character leading up to a situation that they feel anchored in the narrative and the world, rather than airlifted in to provide conflict or whatever at an appropriate moment. and  be careful of this, readers get fucking irate if they think you’re just playing them for emotional release for no reason, to no end, without any indication of the point of what you’re doing. it has to have a function in the plot, ideally, or in the character’s development. but also yeah, don’t fridge characters either.

 

We then had a brief interlude for relishing the mere memory of the moments when creation is easy.
ECM:  I get that glorious creative-iron-filings-aligned thing with painting sometimes – like for bloody once one’s brain is doing what it should, all the things that don’t work in every other fucking circumstance pulling together and functioning in an almost unconscious effortlessness.  feels like being a dancer or a sea gull or something, but mentally. never lasts but worth going through the agony and self doubt to do it again. and again. and again.
This seems like as good a point as any to end a very long post full of rambling about the Process, because what she says about the sensation of writing or creating anything, when it works, is all that really needs to be said about that. We are drawn to this annoying, gruelling, frequently otherwise unrewarding path of activity littered with mistakes and disappointments for that addictive experience of the whoosh of creation – when everything goes right and there’s no casting about for words or overstepping lines or wondering what happens next, only the unstumbling rush forward through scenes or colours or compositions, which is worth a thousand of any other kind of experience you could ask for.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the praise and the money when the finished product briefly catches people’s eye, but that’s not why I do it, and I don’t think that’s why anyone else does it, either.

(Further self-important essays on the writing process and advise and exercises can be found in How Not To Write By Someone Who Doesn’t)

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Persistence: Only Available At 5am When I Have No Choice

Sometimes the flow of work at my workplace doesn’t keep pace with how quickly I process it and by “sometimes” I mean “often”. Unfortunately by 5am I’ve also lost the ability to form sentences and can’t productively use the time to work on book projects, and I can’t look at hardcore pornography because I’m at work.

Recently I decided that I’d try copying a painting by one of my (current) favourite painters, Newlyn School artist and Notorious Heterosexual Henry Scott Tuke, whose primary fodder of sun-kissed naked boys viewed from behind is mysteriously not banned by my workplace, on the grounds that if it’s rendered in paint it’s not pornography.

Now there’s a good reason my tag for attempts at freehand lineart on my less official blog is “derek can’t draw”, and it’s also fairly self-evident. I hear that practice makes perfect, but I also hear my dear chum Jamie McKelvie’s complaints about sciatica brought on by endless drawing and think that art is entirely Too Dangerous for a fragile flower like me, and stick to lifting heavy things in the bathroom instead.

Being for all intents and purposes nailed to my bastard desk for at least another hour with nothing else to do I thought I’d take my life and back muscles into my own hands and give it a try anyway:

brush pen

My brush pen had run out. Under normal circumstances I would take this as a Sign From God that it is not to be, but alas God is going to have to signal a bit harder (say, for instance, by letting me go home) under conditions like these–

what

Merciful fucking Christ, have I always been this bad at art?

(Yes)

no

I made an attempt to block it out with a wee figure in the corner but as you can see this did not help in the slightest.

getting worse

Trying to go for something more stylised and less naturalistic is not helping. It’s getting worse. It’s getting worse the more I do it.

Look at that leg what is happening to his leg?

am i on acid

The point at which sleep deprivation and hallucinogenic drugs become a very similar experience: the arms are improving (for a given value of improving) but the legs are making me concerned that I’ve experienced neurological damage and just haven’t noticed yet (Will Graham, I am coming for your crown). Do I have encephalitis or am I just incredibly stupid?

Don’t answer that.

style

Experimenting with an edict from friend Kev about letting “mistakes” become part of your style, as well as with a slightly better block-out. Not worried about club foot, jug ears, crab hand, or banana fingers, but that leg. It’s broken. There’s a gravitational issue going on – his arm’s supposed to be resting on his knee and there’s this smashed noodle happening there instead.

frustration

Frustration takes hold. None of these poses are right. There’s a distinct, leggy problem occurring and re-occurring, like someone has lost his grip on anatomy and probably shouldn’t be trying to draw at 5am after about 260mg of caffeine anyway.

anatomy

This calls for drastic measures. Fling open a new tab. Find some anatomy guides. This one was of the musculature of the leg (and leg bones), in case this is not clear from the gargoyle scratchings I committed to paper.

Commentary written on my drawing is fairly standard practice: earlier in the night I tried to redesign a character and every sketch was accompanied by criticism from the drawings themselves and protests that they wanted to be left in peace.

femur

The thigh bone’s connect to the shin bones and the shin bones are connected to the heel bone and the heel bone rests on the ground, Derek, because you’re not a horse.

see through

Making the body see-through to get an idea of where all the limbs sit helps, as does temporarily changing to a different pen.

I mean look, his elbow’s bulbous but at least his leg’s not broken any more.

combine

Combining with the character redesign. The leg is still fucked but eh. How much more can I do?

gravity

After all, until I can get the hang of the line of gravity in a figure anatomy is going to be a dead duck anyway.

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Coming Out As Trans: A Bloody Cliché-Ridden Story.

My updated passport. Note gender.

My updated passport. Note gender.

That should cover the basics, I feel. I’m not a fan of making big announcements but as I made a song-and-dance about the last name change and this one is rather more important, it behoves me to at least have a hum and a shuffle about this.

For very few remaining people this will come as a surprise. The majority already know. I’m in the laborious process of flitting between private and NHS healthcare at the moment, trying to secure prescriptions and surgery, and spending a lot of my free time doing daft-looking and daft-sounding exercises to help shape my muscles and vocal chords so that strangers stop referring to me as “she” and making me feel like crap.

It should be noted that my friends have been exemplary about this, with almost no habitual slip-ups and immediate corrections. Not one of them has questioned whether I mean it, and not one of them has flounced off in a transphobic huff. I’ve spent years and years filtering out the arseholes from my social circles and it has paid off

In my job I read a lot of news articles, and it gives me the unparalleled opportunity to see how the narrative of transitioning, which seems to have been cemented in place a long time ago and which requires a fairly rigid set of boxes to be ticked, is usually told. It’s also given me the opportunity to see that while the media is pretty obsessed with trans women (whether deriding them, fetishing them, or actually managing to be respectful) there are still not very many mentions of trans men. There were even fewer mentions when I was younger, which I’m pretty sure was a contributing factor in me being blissfully uncomfortable and incapable of actually putting a name to what was wrong for so long. A list like this one might help, might have helped.

There is a traditional narrative of transition, of early discomfort, cross-dressing, and dysphoria, disaffection with social gender roles and clothing, culminating in a lightbulb moment. There are a few hiccups with that smooth narrative: cross-dressing is not necessarily linked to gender roles, clothes don’t really have their own gender, and thanks to tireless campaigning by women’s dress reformers in the 1800s and early 1900s, it is not exactly outre for women to wear trousers or suit blazers. Unfortunately for men who like dresses, Eddie Izzard has not had the same degree of success in ungendering the frock and lippy.

The bounds of gender are also elastic. If a cis woman can be butch, a tomboy, etc, without compromising her gender identity (and she can and should be allowed this), then why should a transgender woman not be allowed this? If a cis man can be a drag queen (and God be praised many are, drag queens are an element of entertainment culture I never, ever want to see pass away), or a metrosexual, or David Bowie, why can’t a trans man have purple eyebrows and a latex dress?

Discomfort with gender roles is, I’ve noticed, hardly restricted to transgender people. Straight, cis, male friends complain tirelessly of being boxed in by expectations of masculinity. The angry demand that women be allowed to damn well do anything that men do (including really stupid and damaging things) has been heard with increasing ferocity and eloquence for over a century in the UK alone.

Early discomfort is … well, it’s hard to separate from discomfort with other things, a factor which seems to be largely ignored in the WPATH standards of care. I was raised in a proudly and profoundly second-wave feminist household. Since the moment I could form sentences I have been aware of a) the millstone of partriarchal impositions on women’s bodies, b) the role of the partriarchy in suppressing women’s achievements and c) the phrase “internalised misogyny”.

In a world where a bleak division continues to be perpetrated between the power held by women and the power granted to men, is it really likely that every transgender child can tell the difference between being piqued that they’re prevented from having a pink doll or furious at being forbidden football for reasons of generalised unfairness and the stirrings of social dysphoria? We only have hindsight.

Physical dysphoria (as opposed to social dysphoria) which is not a requirement for a non-cisgender identity, is more concrete. And so we’ll begin my Classic Trans Narrative with that.

It is a curious thing to look back over the experiences of your life and realise that your uncategorisable weirdnesses, over which you’ve experienced shame, guilt, anger, and a sense of dislocation from yourself so deep that you’re still plagued by doubts that you exist at all, and find that you are, in fact, categorisable. To turn to other people who have had similar experiences and find that they fit, to a degree, within an existing framework of which you’ve been utterly ignorant. To go back and fit the disjointed, glaring moments and current of Wrongness into an actual picture which, viewed from the position of already having the answer, suddenly and finally makes sense.

A bit like a historical Magic Eye Picture.

If I was preparing a slideshow I might, for example, include childhood instances of trying to create an STP harness out of a toilet roll tube. I might mention the virulent jealousy of my male best friend and his stupid weird testicles when I was 7. Children are weird, naysayers would say. I might mention the utterly alien experience of female puberty, bringing with it the start of no longer feeling as if I was in my own body – a sensation which has sent me through all kinds of risk-taking behaviour, depths of despair, unwanted pregnancy (why care about contraception when you barely believe it’s you having the unprotected vaginal sex?), eating disorders, obesity, self-harm, and a long-term indifference to my own survival. Internalised misogyny, naysayers would desperately reply, on being faced with these Powerpoint slides.

It is also curious to think that the answer was so flatly denied with such a contradictory blend of “everyone feels like that” and “you’re weird”. Make up your minds, Society!

Physical dysphoria takes many forms (please note 2). For the most part I’ve been lucky. Feel revulsion and discomfort would require a sense of association with my body and over a decade of starvation, substance abuse, shitty behaviour, and just plain continually distracting myself has stopped that nonsense. Getting back in contact with myself – mainly through exercise and testosterone – has been, to put it mildly, frightening. Having a damageable human body instead of a vague idea that something I don’t like will be got rid of if I get hit by a truck is something I’m still adjusting to.

That feeling of alien disconnect was so pervasive, so normal to me, that I didn’t think it worth investigating, after a while. Internalised misogyny. A refusal to Play Nice With The World. My mother, working within her own framework of beliefs which include some interesting approaches to reincarnation, decided that I “didn’t want to be on the Earth”, which is hardly a perceptive leap after your only child has persistently attempted suicide and spends most of their time lying down or bleeding on things while crying.

It remains difficult to talk, or think about.

For the sake of the Narrative, let us assume there was one lightbulb moment, instead of a series of ever-increasing lightbulbs hastily switched off for fear of being ridiculed, accused of attention-seeking, and dismissed by all and sundry. Let us not compare the road to openness about gender with my progress to the same with sexuality, where I did the fucking Closet Hokey-Cokey for a decade and still operate, largely, on a need-to-know basis where I judge almost everyone as Not Needing To Know.

Let’s. It’s true. I’ve wandered back and forth on pronouns, accepted my position and rescinded it, panicking at the breadth of the implications and the apparently insurmountable obstacles, convinced the response would be the same: You’re Making It Up. And let’s, for a moment, regard with outright suspicion the people who believe that wanting to keep elements of one’s life and identity private, or not wishing to disclose, for example, the content of one’s underwear to hostile arseholes from every walk of life, means one is not sincere.

And let’s also talk about wishful thinking, the main outlet for someone too fearful of rejection to actually pursue the increasingly obvious: an avowed atheist, I’ve lobbed pennies in wells, made wishes on candles, submitted prayers at Sacre Coeur on a Christmas Holiday, sought out shooting stars, made weird bargains with the universe where on a set time and date (compliant with what I was raised to believe: manifestation, and positive thinking. Turns out, by the way, you actually have to do something instead) I would just wake up and everything would be fine. No more heinous female body. No more womb torment, no more stupid voice, and could I maybe please also grow six inches?

The universe, unfeeling and indeed non-cogitating bastard that it is, has not obliged me. Thankfully I’ve never been nuts enough to think that what it wants from me is human sacrifice, because I’d have been willing.

Why now?

This is understandably a question I’ve been asked a few times by medical professionals. They are required to ask, and if I’ve been effectively sitting on a suicidal ideation landmine for 30+ years the question of “why now” does seem pertinent. There are a lot of factors: the presence of the Resident Australian and the sense of security and stability in my home life has helped enormously, as has the increasing number of transgender friends I’ve amassed who are, by virtue of who they are, more inclined to take me seriously. Media concentration has made it less likely that I’ll be met with total bemusement; indignant support by acquaintances for the gender identity of Chelsea Manning (for various reasons the fact that this is a Wikipedia link is highly ironic) was a boost, as was the delighted reception of Laverne Cox into the public eye.

Also, and less pleasantly, people have persistently been dying – in 2011 a series of friends and acquaintances committed suicide, in 2012 two deaths occurred in my family in the same week – which despite a long and by then almost-habitual familiarity with suicidal ideation and an indifference to my own survival, did also give me the impetus to think about how everyone else conducted their lives.

Namely, right up until those friends lost their grip on the battle with their own mental health, and until those family members no longer had the physical wherewithal to keep kicking death in the bollocks, none of them had to my knowledge spent their entire lives hiding under a rock and drifting into and out of things without my sustained enthusiasm because they felt like a shadow of a person. In fact, they’d done the opposite – pursued their interests and passions with zeal and vigour, and in every case the world will be the worse for not having them in it. I wasn’t sure the same could be said for me.

The same very much cannot be said for me, in fact. A lack of confidence has dogged me most of my life. I’ve walked into achievements with the blunt sense that I don’t deserve them and that they belong to someone else. The BA I earned was an aberration. The literary competitions I won were probably a mistake. The relationships I had were just because people hadn’t realised I was a fake. And so on. I pursued almost nothing, I settled as quickly and as easily as I could and tolerated things that should not have been tolerable to anyone simply because I couldn’t bring myself to care about them. My body wasn’t right, I wasn’t right, so what did it matter if I did or did not go anywhere in life?

Flitting in and out of unemployment and bashing out books did give me a chance to consider this, too. What exactly was I avoiding in not doing anything about a problem that was destroying me, body and mind? “Things might be terrible?” Things were already terrible.

As I said, I’ve never been a terribly motivated person. If there is even a sliver of doubt in the likelihood of me getting to point B from point A I hang back and don’t get off the sofa. There was no guarantee that I wouldn’t do with this as I had with, say, my attempt at a career change five years ago, when I chucked some redundancy money at getting an HNC in Music Production: pursue it enough to get over the quantifiable hurdle (I passed the HNC with a Distinction because if there’s one thing I am it is painfully, pathetically academically competitive when I already know I’m doing better than the rest of my class)  and then abandon it as too hard, requiring too much interaction.

That’s another thing, by the way. When you live your life in a constant fug of Wrongness and misgendering you don’t really want to interact with people very much. It drains the living shit out of you because you’re having to realign yourself, continually, to a gender that’s not yours, and rise above feeling like utter pants in order to communicate/remember how to perform that Not Your Gender.

I lined up all the possible objections to my transition and started to tackle them with a determination I had no idea I actually possessed.

  1. I was worried that, being a long way “obese” on the BMI scale when I went to see my GP, I might be refused treatment on the basis of physical health. Testosterone raises the blood pressure and cholesterol, and both are associated also with elevated weight. As it happens, my cholesterol levels were entirely fine and my blood pressure was “surprisingly good” for someone of my total lack of fitness and dislike of being in a doctor’s surgery talking about My Feelings.

But I didn’t want to encounter any potential resistance later, either. So I hurled myself at what is looking to be a permanent lifestyle change: I now walk around 5 miles most days, lift weights, and eat less than a third of what I was eating before: completely different foods. Since August 2014 I have gone from 113kg to 73-76kg depending on the week.

  1. I was aware this was going to take a long time, and also aware that I am not a patient person. Cowardly, yes; patient, no. And the one thing I know about medical processes is that if you want something doing quickly, you have to pay for it. For which I would need a regular source of income that wasn’t in the doldrums. I would also need to not be constantly at the mercy of some spectacular dickheads higher up the food chain one of my seasonal work go-tos, which was also something of a foot in the arse for what happened next: I changed gear, and went after a job with the kind of direction and determination I have, again, never actually managed before.

    I got the job.

    I passed my probation, which has also never happened before.

    I’m good at my job.

    Which is weird.

  1. I’ve actually started looking into savings schemes and planning ahead. For the future. The one that I’m actually convinced I’m going to have now. I’ve stopped behaving as if I’m going to die tomorrow.
  2. The path hasn’t been easy. There have been setbacks, misunderstandings, lost documents – a grim period in which a lack of information from the Passport Office website meant I didn’t have the right paperwork and effectively had my passport confiscated, putting me in the same category as people who want to take their daughters abroad for FGM because they hadn’t been clear about what degree of medical professional they wanted a letter from. There’s been money flying about like the trading floor of a stock exchange. And instead of toppling over the minute things get difficult, as has typically been my wont (“This is hard! I’m not doing it!”), each time I’ve taken stock, collected advice, asked for clarifications, and attacked the problem anew.
  3. People have been helping. Not just a battery of deeply, deeply appreciated friends, not just the people I live with, not people with a stake in seeing me happy. Doctors. HR managers. Even, once I had the right damn letter, the Passport Office. Who have expressed sympathy and the desire to be supportive. Who have listened to me. Who have, instead of treating me like I don’t know my own mind, responded to me behaving like an actual damn adult and saying “I do know myself better than you do, and what I know is that I am not going back on this” by agreeing that I know what I am.

Why blow my own trumpet in such a vulgar fashion?

Because, pathetic as it is, this is amazing to me. After three decades of being a spineless, directionless, worried idiot who lived so constantly with the desire to die or at least not live, I can now make long-term plans; I don’t walk around feeling like I’m slowly suffocating. I have things to look forward to. I have determination to make those things happen. I have contingency plans. I am prepared to kick and kick and kick until I get a body I can live in; now that there is a route out of this situation that doesn’t feel unreachable, I feel like I have the power to reach for it; now that there’s a way out that isn’t just “die”, I don’t want to die any more.

As I told the first therapist I saw about this, I didn’t know I could do this. And now… what else could I do? What else am I capable of?


Most of the resources online for parents dealing with their children transitioning are aimed at the parents of young children and teenagers. I’d like to think that means that parents are becoming if not more accepting (lunatics and bigots will always abound), then at least better-informed. When I was younger there was none of this, no framing for what I was feeling, and no point of reference. No depiction of trans men in the media or in the books I read that would have given me a handle on how to phrase what I experienced.

Trans men and women before me have fought like crazy to get us we were are now: talking about Caitlyn Jenner’s dress and Lana Wachowski’s mad sci-fi. Presenting narratives about transgender men and women that don’t end in suicide or murder, so that the next generations have something to look forward to, something to hope for.

If it’s not too late for Caitlyn Jenner to get her life working the right way for her, then it’s not too late for me.

These links are intended for the further education of people who have recently discovered a friend or family member is transgender, rather than for the support or assistance of those who are trying to transition. I also recommend reading the links in the body text.

My Child Came Out As Transgender, Now What?
Transgender advice: the best resources online
Resources for people with transgender family members
Mermaids (for transgender children)
My Daughter, My Son: How School Bullies and State Laws Changed the Way I Saw My Transgender Child
Things Not To Say To A Transgender Person (video, useful & informative, from the BBC)
5 Things Cis People Can Actually Do For Trans People
If Trans People Said All The Things Cis People Said (video)

Terminology

Cissexism
Cisgender privilege
3 Examples of everyday Cissexism (Since genitals do not determine gender, you actually won’t know your child’s gender identity until they’re able to tell you.)

Amen.

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