The Great Gallifreyan Sex Change, part II

New_Doctor_Who_star_Jodie_Whittaker_shouldn_t_have_to_defend_her_genderWhen the Master was revealed to be reincarnated as a woman I wrote a long post about it. Part of the reason I wrote that was I never thought Who would actually have the balls to change the gender of the Doctor. And now they have. So what do I think about that? I’m transgender, after all. This should be pretty close to my heart.

Well, that’s a very good question. I encountered the news through posts on Facebook complaining that their entire f’list was now about the Doctor, so I scrolled a bit and googled a bit and then thought: Oh dear god, here comes the internet-feminism shitstorm. I was not wrong about that, but I’ll chuck peanuts at the failings of humanity  in the netwatch post.

I watched the five or ten seconds of footage that was causing this whole furore. Ten seconds doesn’t really say enough to judge a whole show on. Then I sat back and examined my own reaction to the news. It was a kind of full-body wince. It took me some time to realise that the wince was provoked by a horrible suspicion that nu-Who is going to spectacularly fail at dealing with the questions raised by this development.

I disagree with the people claiming that Who has been (a) ruined or (b) made perfect by the change. I think the Doctor belongs to everyone; not to women, not to men. Not to RTD or Moffat or this Chibnall fellow either, come to that. People explain to me how Chibnall is a huge fan of Who and they’re keen to see it in his hands, and I remember feeling the same excitement about RTD, who proved to be incapable of deep storylines, and about Moffat on the grounds he was the guy who gave us the Weeping Angels and maybe we’d get some real actual story now. But I was disappointed then and it’s perfectly possible Chibnall will disappoint too.

13149220-low-I mean I was complaining when Missy rolled round that the gender swap had to happen to the bad guy. It smacked a little too much of that era in media when gay characters always died. I should be deliriously happy that they’ve gone the whole hog, shouldn’t I? Dancing in the streets.

But I’m not. They still didn’t have the courage to make the Doctor the flagship of the change. They used Missy as training wheels because it would be easy to get rid of her if the change didn’t go over well. That’s still an attitude that treats representing me and people like me as abnormal and a risk.

They’ve also walked squarely into a bunch of gender stereotypes with Missy. Notice that it’s only the character’s female incarnation who is uncertain enough to question the character’s basic nature, and who shows vulnerability openly (as opposed to the Doctor who lies about his blindness until forced to tell the truth). That’s not challenging this stereotype we have that men don’t or can’t show certain emotions. It’s not going to educate young boys about having the strength to be a complete person. It’s still saying that emotions, inner change and personal development belong to girls, and that boys should just keep on pretending to be strong. What would John Sim have done with a script that demanded subtle and emotionally charged interaction with the Doctor? We’ll never know. He won’t get the opportunity because that stuff’s not for men.

The thing is, I’ve been waiting for Who to get good again since they cast Matt Smith. He was a gift in the part and has a colossal talent (I recommend Christopher And His Kind), but the scripts were consistently awful and let him down immensely. There was a catalogue of howling diversity gaffes on Moffat’s part, followed by someone having a quiet word with him about sensitivity and the resulting several seasons of unmemorable pabulum. In hindsight I honestly have difficulty telling the recent ones apart.

I still enjoy the asexuality of Capaldi’s Doctor, since it’s a pleasant return to Whovian tradition. To date the only time I’ve ever stopped watching Who completely was in the nadir of the Tennant era when the Doctor’s only ability was emoting and an unfunny comedienne was cast as the Companion. I also like the fact that we have a middle-aged man playing a character that is OK for children; sometimes I think that as a society we’ve slid so far down the men-are-rapists rabbit hole that we’ve forgotten men can be decent humans too.

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There were pansexual Roman legionaries at the bottom of Who’s most recent rendition of a rabbit hole, which I rather liked.

But given the way they didn’t challenge stereotypes with Missy’s personality, I’m not optimistic about how nu-Who will handle the Doctor’s gender change. They may choose the wish fulfilment approach in which the Doctor gets to do and say all those things that women want to – the trouble with that is that it’ll essentially turn the female Doctor into a sort of gender-swapped Bernard Manning and the Companions will all be scantily-clad ripped twinks. Certainly if they go with what the feminists on my Facebook are saying.

If, however, they choose to wave their authorial magic wands and have the Doctor’s gender switch make no difference at all, then it is highly likely I will break whatever screen I’m watching it on.  I have done changing my gender and it is years and years of misery and pain – and that, as transition goes, is having it easy. If I feel like that about the mere thought of the new Doctor trivialising my personal journey, what are the trans women going to feel when they actually see it? (And if you can’t figure out why this might bother me, imagine they cast a black person instead and then went on to have all other characters behave as if racism didn’t exist. Why might that annoy people who have to deal with racism every day?)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I’ve enjoyed in this year’s Who. The slew of gloriously political little digs – capitalism in space and so on. My left wing soul was delighted. But with the news that Moffat will be departing, those little digs look less like subversion of Auntie Beeb and more like someone who knows he can’t be fired because he’s already gone. Bill was a lesbian and working class, which is great, but if she’s ever sold as an action figure it will probably come with a sledgehammer that has I LIKE GIRLS carved into the business end. Another case of the scripting letting the cast down.

So yeah, Who hasn’t got good yet. I’m still waiting. And now it has a complicated and subtle change to deal with which is also one I’m very personally invested in.

I’ll give Who 2018 a chance, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

I Ate’nt Dead

vexzp1gGood grief, it’s been a year.

And what a f***ing year – I’m inclined to agree with the Facebook meme that suggests unplugging 2016, leaving it for a few minutes then plugging it in again. I knew my thirties would be when the deaths began, but so many of my childhood memories in so little time – although it confirmed my suspicion that the only thing I appreciated about Prince was his genderfucking image. I never could get on with the music.

And then there was Brexit, and I could write an entire post about that in itself. Reading Facebook on my phone this morning, without the insulating effect of Social Fixer, exposed me to all the real-time misery of yesterday’s  disappointment for the Remainers.  Thankfully, due to having kicked a number of contentious arseholes off my friends list in the last few months, I only got a small dose of obnoxious cackling by the Leave lot and no gratuitous racism at all. It’s blindingly obvious to me that the thing we really need to fix this is for some political party in the UK to really start engaging with the working class – I can only hope that the “Bregretters” (whose br-eakfast this morning was undoubtedly br-eggs, br-acon and br-oken sobbing) actually take from their experience of doing something stupid that voting *does* make a difference and don’t do it again in the next general election.13528888_10154203112711153_4236270297118222216_n

But the post I was going to write is something different; connected to what’s happening in my country, but not just cultural observation. It’s been a really hellish year for me; the reason there’s been no traffic on this blog is because I’ve spent most of it fighting the UK’s social security system. Like many disability benefit claimants I was found “fit for work” and have been trying to hold my mental and physical health together while coping with the fallout from that. I’m still here, and at present in the process of reapplying for the disability benefits based on the deeply unsurprising fact that all the stress I’ve been through has made me worse, but it’s been one hell of an experience and I’ve got very little in the way of inner resources right now.

Just the potential of light at the end of the tunnel, however, has triggered off that part of me which is always looking for the next step. I’m genuinely broken at the moment, barely capable of staying awake for six hours at a time and lacking the focus to concentrate on anything demanding, but I’m still trying to see where to get to. I always am. Feeling like I’ve got a purpose gives me hope.

And this is where the link I mentioned comes in. I realised a few months ago that a lot of the reason I’ve barely done any creative writing since I transitioned has to do with why I write. Before transition, it was almost always about exorcising personal demons; if I read back through the fiction I wrote over the years I can trace the development of my own identity and my relationship with it. Just before and during the time when I realised I was trans, I had an explosive few months of nonstop creating, most of which involved female characters who had really messed-up relationships with themselves. No mystery where that came from.2cced4b77715c0fb28038c145e8fd8e4437e3e48e64b29d7da6bab06aa5d8b3b_1

But then I transitioned, and solved that problem. Life is a hell of a lot less demanding in terms of dealing with my own identity now. So all of a sudden I don’t have a demon to exorcise, and I’ve found myself looking at a blank page and asking “but why?”. Why bother when all I’m doing is entertaining myself? Why bother when there’s no meaning to it? I always have to have a purpose.

And it’s true enough that part of good writing is to entertain. But it’s also about communicating; reaching people and touching them. Right now I’m living in a world where people need to be reached and touched in a huge number of ways, at least a couple of which I might well be able to achieve. And there’s no point in false modesty: I already know I have good enough writing skills to do that if I put my mind to it.

It took a while to filter through and click, but I realised recently that I’m so used to being driven by passion in my writing that I’ve never really learnt how to approach it from the bottom up. I’ve been relying on the 1% inspiration and omitting the 99% perspiration. And as soon as I figured that out I realised I already had a superb role model for how to do it the other way in the shape of John Ayliff, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a flat some time ago. John was the model of a very old-fashioned and British sort of discipline; even at weekends he would Get Up, Go For A Walk, Sit Down and Write Words. And over the time we lived together I watched a debut novel go from a glossy new concept to a beaten-up draft, to a stack of manila envelopes and thence to acceptance and publication. More accurately, I peered at this process from behind the nearest door, struck with a sort of superstitious awe – how was he doing it? Where did all that stuff come from?

14agv3Well, Felix, he was sitting down and writing words, that’s where. For someone this intelligent I can be astonishingly dense at times. John is not alone, either – apparently there’s a well-known author (whose name at present escapes me) who has decorated his writing room with a poster in the much-overused “KEEP CALM” style. It says “SIT DOWN and WRITE BOOKS”. I think it’s very possible I should get one.

So I’ve identified my step zero, then. Learn how to write fiction by starting at the individual lego bricks, rather than at the picture of the pretty castle. As I said I’m a mess at the moment, and I’m going to be starting with things that are not destined to see any sort of formal light of day, but hopefully they’ll entertain a few people and on the way I can relearn my writing process better.

And then maybe, some time in the future, I’ll actually be able to say things that will reach people in the way they need, and have enough reach that those people hear it when they need it.

Poem for autumn

Autumn is a time of drawing-in, of consolidation and careful settling; it’s not a time for risks, for excitement and change.

Or so they say. For me autumn has the visceral joy of change to it, just as much as spring; the liveliness of changing winds, the snap of frost, the crunch of apples.  It heralds a season of richness and thankfulness, of rejoicing in the fruits we work to pluck and store now.

Few things are given to us without labour… but that work is so very deeply its own reward.

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