I haven't been going to Church as much as I would like to recently. Between trips to Norfolk to my friend's boat, Sunday morning rehearsals, Sunday afternoon concerts and late Saturday nights it feels like a while since I have been. Of course today is the most important day of the Christian calendar so I made a special effort, I got up in plenty of time had my shower and a decent breakfast before setting off on the short walk up the road for the eleven O'clock service. Only to get there and find that they had a ten O'clock service today! By then it was too late for any of my other local churches who all have services at 10:30 or 10:00.
I understand that many of my trans brothers and sisters find it very difficult to find a Church where they are accepted, I rejoice to say that this has not been a problem for me. Since being rejected by the Church I was formally very involved in I have been accepted by every Church I have been to. Accepted but not always comfortable. Since moving I have been committed to the idea that I should worship in the community in which I live, and further that the congregation should look like my neighbours.
Recently I have been attending a local Church which seemed to fit the bill, yet...…. As a musician I have a couple of issues with the worship, the prime one is that the PA is all too often turned up far too loud ~ bearing in mind that I play both the electric bass and the bass trombone I am clearly not one to flinch from a few decibels. The problem is two fold,
When the volume is too high it turns the worship leader into a performer, the congregation becomes an audience and individual members become reluctant to join in and sing, instead of communal worship we get a performance ~ and few worship leaders are technically good enough to be performers!
The PA is simply not powerful enough. As a general principle even if the amp does go up to eleven it is rarely a good idea to take it above 5! In simple terms the combination of small speakers, amplifier turned up to eleven and amateur operators leads to feedback and distortion. I for one find this uncomfortable at best, much of the time painful! It is certainly enough to distract me from my own worship, and that is the opposite of the purpose, worship leading should be just that, leading the congregation into worship.
This may seem trivial but it is enough to make me uncomfortable and distract me, where I have been able to I have often attended the earlier morning service simply to avoid the PA! At various times I have emailed this Church and failed to receive a reply, on another occasion I dropped in a completed card asking about membership ~ I have received replies to none. They claim they want to be a radical expression of faith in the community, yet they fail to communicate, there was nothing on the website about the change in service times. I feel strongly that what ever we offer to God, whether it be worship, service or physical offering it should be the best we have, and I'm sorry to say that this Church is falling short.
It greaves me as the preaching is good, there are some good people there, and I initially felt welcomed, now I'm not so sure that I am really wanted, or indeed that they can walk the walk as well as they talk the talk.
The other Church I attended when I first moved here was again welcoming, but I never quite felt comfortable there, and some of the singing from the leaders was so poor it again distracted me from my own worship ~ I wonder should I maybe give them another chance.
After all no man (or woman) is an island, I need the support, fellowship and communal worship that can only come from being part of a Church. I will be honest, I also miss being part of a PA team, a worship band, and respected as a theologian. I worry how much of this is about me and my ego as much as the expression of being Church.
In amongst all the chaos here around the crises of non government we find ourselves in over leaving the EU it can come as something of a shock that the World is still turning, stuff happens, and life goes on, even while our government fails to govern. One of those things that happens has happened, a recent documentary about Michael Jackson has aired further allegations about his behaviour with underage boys. I have not seen it, and I don't know the truth about all this. I do know that Jackson is dead and that he can't now defend himself, and that in law his estate can't either.
Still from The Shipping News
There have been allegations made against many other high profile figures including Kevin Spacey , Sylvester Stallone and many others that have yet to be proven. Indeed many may never come to court just like Cliff Richard who will now not have the opportunity to totally clear his name. The Crown Prosecution Service will say something like they "have insufficient evidence to mount a prosecution" suggesting that if only they could find the evidence they know he did it, they never say that after extensive investigations they know he's not guilty. Then of course there will always be those who say there is no smoke without fire ~ of course there is! I have been subject to false accusations (of a different nature) and it is very hard to prove an absence of something happening, and if those accusations are public, without an equal opportunity to defend then much damage can be done.
This is largely aside from what I wanted to talk about though. The point is these are all artists of one type or another, I may not care much for some of their work, but I also care a lot for some of it. I am a bit of Cliff Richard fan, and Kevin Spacey stars in a couple of my favorite films (The Shipping News, and American Beauty) I suppose my question is does the behaviour of the artist dictate the value of the art they create? I have heard of Students Unions banning Michael Jackson's music because of these allegations, I know there are DJs who will not play Gary Glitter records, Chris Brown and R Kelly are now also at best only reluctantly played; but if the music is good why not play it?
I have friends who worked on The Shipping News, should they be denied their work being screened (and the fees attached) because of as yet unproven allegations against the star? Is it any the less a good film because of Spacey's alleged behaviour?
Caravaggio's "Beheading of St John the Baptist"
During the summer I was one of the thousands who flocked to St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta to see the Caravaggio's there. Caravaggio is largely acknowledged as a Master, even a genius, yet by all accounts he was a serial philanderer and a multiple murderer! Are we adopting double standards? Dickens, Shakespeare and Michelangelo and others are now emerging as moral ambiguous at best, yet we continue to celebrate their work. Is it just their contemporary nature that makes us reject them? I think the art can be separated from the artist, I will continue to listen to and enjoy some of Wagner's music, I will continue to look at Caravaggio's in awe and wonder, and I will continue to enjoy Keven Spacey's films.
Yesterday was the International Women's Day, it feels odd that over 50% of the World's population need to have a special day to celebrate women, and to highlight the injustices, the prejudice and the inequalities that we have to deal with on an almost daily basis. But we do because we do, we need it because our world is still very far from equal. OK here in the UK it's better than in some other places, but ;~
After the 2017 General Election we now have 208 women MPs, 32% and that's meant to be something to celebrate?
Women still earn less than men, this means that earn the same amount they have to work for longer, to mark the day when women will hit the equal amount we have "Equal Pay Day" this year that will be on April the 2nd
I think the only two areas where Women dominate in the UK at the moment are in Monarchs and Prime Ministers! ~ I think most of us will agree that one of them is doing a pretty decent job!
I celebrated by joining colleagues from Diversity Role Models in running some workshops with a School in South East London. This is a largely Girls Performing Arts School so I think all of the pupils we saw were girls, I was impressed by their knowledge, engagement, and potential, quite a few were from faith backgrounds and I was very happy to be able to respond to them from a similar point of few.
Sometimes with all the abuse being thrown at Trans Women at the moment, it's easy to forget what we keep telling people, "Trans Women are Women", we are just as effected by misogyny and inequality as all other women, and have an equal responsibility to combat it and to help educate youngsters towards inclusion and equality. I am happy to do my bit, through DRM and through participation in "Ladies First" a local exhibition in Croydon Town Center highlighting the diversity of women working and living in Croydon. This Photo is on display opposite the Town Hall, just in case they forget who I am!
Today is the first day of the rest of my life! ~ but then again so is every single day! and to be honest there's nothing particularly special about today. For me it is day when I won't be working as I am taking the day off to get my hair done; something I haven't actually managed for nearly a year now, I opened the door this morning to the post man and realised that as my Mother would have said, I looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus. My hair was all over the place and has now got to the length when I either have to have it cut or join a 70s rock band.
None of this has anything to do with what I sat down to write about though, during my prolonged convalescence I have had little to do except sit round watching bad daytime TV ~ sure I did manage some playing but quite often the day after I did anything I was so washed out the next day would turn into a duvet day. Apart from getting fat, idle and unfit this also led to me drinking far too much ~ maybe not unlinked to the getting fat bit ~ I have realised that once again my relationship with alcohol is getting unhealthy. Rather than cut down I have once again decided to fast from booze for Lent. For me Lent is very much a time to think about, and work on relationships, primarily my relationship with God, and my relationship with Earthly pleasures. Don't get me wrong! I still plan to have fun, but it's more about who is in control of these relationships, in both cases I fear they may have slipped in the wrong direction.
For some time I have been aware that I have been drinking too much, but thought I was OK, I could handle it ~ after all I wasn't drinking Vodka for breakfast! but it's more complicated than that, I have to ask myself am I really in charge of my relationship with Booze? can I still have fun without a drink? and am I damaging my other relationships through my drinking? By the end of Lent I will be able to answer these questions differently ~ I hope.
Lots of Christians will be giving stuff up for Lent, most Churches have a tradition in one form or another of fasting, and most will also be following Jesus' advise in Matthew 6:16
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
If one of your Christian friends who normally enjoys a chocolate biscuit, a drink or a slice of cake, please don't push them, they may just be fasting and don't really want to mention it, I will be trying to carry on as normal, just not carrying a pint of IPA.
Last time I posted I talked a bit about my aims for the year, I've not really done too well so far having last no weight at all and having only got to one concert that I wasn't playing in. There was one aim I didn't mention as I have had it on my list for the last few years ~ to do a public stand up routine. Well that actually looks like it's about to be fulfilled!
I hadn't listed going to the launch of a new range of lingerie. Last night I went up to town with some friends having been invited to the launch event for the GI Collection from Carmen Liu. It was a fun night and a joy to meet some wonderful people, including the designers mother and grandmother! The whole thing was only marginally marred by the presence of a few TERF protestors outside. I worry that their life is so empty that the best thing they can think of doing on a wet Thursday night in February is to stand outside in the rain ranting at people who just ignore them. I can't say that I'll be buying any of their offerings, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, but these days I rate comfort higher than I used to.
I've also played in the most awesome concert, last month the LGSO played Shostakovich's epic seventh symphony, I was the third of six trombones, along with eight horns six trumpets stacks of woodwind and more percussion than you can shake a stick at. It's long, loud and leery. At the end of our performance I think the whole orchestra was emotionally and physically drained, maybe that's why we all seemed to need some wine to revive us.
I'm feeling rather annoyed, I had drafted most of this post the other day and was just tidying it up when my computer crashed, it appears that I hadn't saved it so now I have to start all over again!
Waiting with my friend "Stripes"
As promised I am looking forward. I'm looking forward to getting back to work ~ it'll still be a while before I will be able to, or will need to be throwing lawn mowers in and out of the back of the van. I'm looking forward to making music, and I'm looking forward to finding out how life feels following my recent surgery. I suspect that it will be both very different and very much the same at the same time.
Prior to actually going into hospital I will now admit to being very worried, both about the sheer scale of the procedure and whether I had made the right decision. I had weighed up my options, taking into account my age, any anticipated future relationships, and what I still hope to get out of life. I felt I had made a rational logical decision, but that didn't stop me worrying.
Also the only surgery I had had before was for peritonitis when my appendix ruptured at the age of eight or nine. I am a total wuss when it comes to these things so the very idea of surgery was more than a little scary.
Typical Hospital food
My wife and daughter came into hospital with me that morning and stayed with me till I got taken down to theatre. I was, and of course am, so grateful for their support and love, especially at what must have been a very difficult time for both of them as well as for me. As usually happens none of the things I was worried about happened, and despite a moment where I thought "OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE" (pardon my shouting) which quickly passed I have to say I am very content with the outcome.
As I know not all of you are interested in the clinical details I will pass over them, and leave it at, I will need more time to recover physically, but it is also taking a bit of time working out where everything is, as some of the nerve ends are now in different places and it is taking a bit of time working it all out. I will observe, however, just how well I was looked after, all the staff were wonderful, and the food was excellent.
It's not really that surprising that between eating rather well, and almost total inactivity, I have put on rather a lot of weight, just over a stone (14 pounds or about 7 Kg) in the last month. Given that I have another 5 weeks to go before I can go back to work it's not going to be easy to shift.
So my first aim for 2019 is to shift that extra weight I've put on.
The next is to deal with my blood pressure problem, It was quite high before but I was just concentrating on being OK for surgery, it was fine all the time I was in hospital, but I will have to keep an eye on it. Indeed I have been called into the local Hospital to have a monitor fitted for a day.
A more enjoyable ambition is to go to more concerts that I'm not playing in. At least I can get off to a good start on that, tonight I will be going to a clarinet recital given by a good friend of mine. Jay is an excellent clarinetist and a fine musician so it should be a very good evening. Pretty simple, but maybe not too easy.
My last post I wrote about my travels and my adventures last summer. It really was quite a summer lots sun, a lot of music, a lot of time with friends. Maybe not as much time as I would have liked with family but a high point was the weekend in Amsterdam with my Daughter.
At the beginning of the Summer I went on a short tour with the Croydon Symphonic Band and then towards the end of the summer I had my trip to Amsterdam. Last year for the first time in decades I took out an annual travel insurance. Again for the first time in decades I had a fortnights holiday to come in September. Two weeks in Malta was a bit like a dream coming true.
Valletta, capital of Malta and 2018 European City of Culture
I have a sort of time share there for one week a year, I have carried a week forward for a couple of years so last year we had a whole fortnight. I love Malta, the place, the people, the food, and the architecture. having that extra week meant we could take our time, just chill out in a bar or by the pool as well as making our cultural and tourist trips.
We made some friends there and generally had a great time, we had some wonderful trips including a round the island cruise and a couple to just spend time in Valletta and Medina. With one thing and another we didn't get to Gozo and Xlendi Bay this time, so the plan is to carry forward another week and have a fortnight again in 2020.
Xlendi Bay in Gozo, one of my all time favorite places
A couple of posts back I wrote about my dealings with the GIC (Gender Identity Clinic) it is was only in the last quarter of the year that everything started to go right. Indeed it was while we were on holiday that I got a phone call from Parkside Hospital to tell me they had received a letter of referral from the Clinic ~ 13 weeks after the appointment where I was told I was being referred. It was very refreshing to deal with people with the time and inclination to be helpful. I had my first appointment with them a few weeks later, the second a couple of weeks after that. Indeed exactly ten weeks after that first phone call I was in Parkside hospital preparing to go into theatre for surgery. Just to reiterate that ~ It took Parkside three weeks less to process, explain, examine and operate than it took the GIC to type and send a letter.
It is now only five weeks since that surgery (it will be another six before I go back to work) I feel as though I am making an excellent recovery, I'm still sore but getting better and feeling very happy with the outcome so far. As far as I can see things are just going to get better!
Summer was fabulous, not just the weather that was stunning, but I also had a fabulous, very busy time. I spent most of my working hours wearing shorts and a sun top, I've still got a bit of tan, and even though there were some days when it was simply too hot to work on the whole I loved it. Of course it was very stressful for a lot of plants and many lawns suffered badly. It's no good watering once the drought has started, good roots are needed and that means watering lots not too often throughout the year.
It was a very hot day, and I suspect that I might not have been the only one who started to regret the decision to wear black! It was wonderful to play brass band music with so many other women, but it also underlined the simple fact that there is still a lot of prejudice in music, especially around which instruments it is suitable for a woman to play. Whilst we had plenty of trombones I was the only Bass Trombone, and for a band of around 80 we could only muster 3 tubas, and they were all EEbs. There is still a lot of work needed to encourage girls to take up some of the instruments still perceived to be male. Instruments do not have gender they have character, they have sound, and the have roles, these can be male, female, both and neither. ~ On this note on Sunday I will be attending the first WOW Brass Development Day, I may not get to do much playing but I'm still looking forward to it.
With my new friend at Croydon PrideFest
The other big event was Croydon Pride. As I am a trustee and part of the planning committee we had lots of meetings, lots of stress, and lots of work in the lead up to the big event. Croydon Pride is very much a year round organisation with events going on most months, but of course the Pridefest is the big one.
Once again it was a wonderful sunny day, thousands of people turned out and I think everybody had a great time. Of course Pride is not just an excuse for a great party, it is still also a protest, all the time any part of the LGBT+ community is being oppressed we need to stand together and make it clear that it is not acceptable. At the moment it seems to be Trans Women who are most under attack (for any number of reasons Trans Men are not being singled out for the same levels of abuse). I have been trying not to dwell on this too much here as plenty of others are much more engaged than I am, but, when we get regular abuse in National Newspapers, Radio, TV, and Parliament it is difficult not feel picked upon. I hope that 2019 will be better, but in all honesty I don't expect it.
At Amsterdam Pride with my Daughter,
the coolest person in the City
Croydon was not my only Pride, I marched in Pride in London (so I wasn't aware of the furore at the front until the next day), I marched in Trans Pride Brighton, and I was on the shore watching Amsterdam Pride ~ I think I have written pretty extensively about all of these at some point here so won't go on too much about them now, each was fabulous in their own way.
Amsterdam was a great trip with the fabulous London Gay Symphony Orchestra we played a great concert, we enjoyed the parade (on the canals!) we laughed so much we cried, we also discovered that Amsterdam is maybe not quite as inclusive as we thought, it was very much a Gay Pride and since neither my Daughter or I consider ourselves to be white gay men we felt a little left out and withdrew to our hotel.
To my shame I got to very few concerts I wasn't playing in, but outstanding amongst the ones I did get to was seeing "The Sweet" playing in Oxted. I loved them in the 70s and I still do!
In my last post I was looking back at the first part of last year, somehow my work diary tells me that I was not very busy, and I didn't have much in the way of gigs, but since I still have unwatched films I recorded in January 2018 (I know I watched a couple yesterday!). By the time March came round normal service was resumed as the sun came out and I played concerts with orchestras, wind bands, brass bands and jazz bands, indeed in total I think I played in six performances, there was also a Croydon Pride event, several meetings, the Transgender Day of Visibility; and of course WOW
What there was not in March was an appointment with the GIC (Gender Identity Clinic). Looking back I see that I have been under them since December 2014 but it was only late in 2017 that I finally made a decision concerning the surgical options that were being offered to me. Right from the beginning of my transition I have been determined to only address the next question, so at first the question was whether to transition at all, then to be full time or just on occasion, later it would be about seeking medical help, hormones, name changes, degree of visibility etc. I had always thought that I would not opt for surgery at all. To be honest I am a bit of a wuss! my identity has never been centered around my genitals, and I'm not anticipating any sort physical / romantic attachment.
Until then I had given myself three options, Yes, No, and Not Now, I had been firmly going for the not now. I was worried about the intrusive nature of surgery, the possible complications, the amount of time off work and the life long maintenance. On the other hand I was not entirely sure about the benefits so on my Cost/Benefit analysis the costs outweighed the benefits. At some point during 2017 I became aware of the variety of surgical options available, and one of those options became slightly more attractive. The more I thought about it the more convinced I became that this is what I wanted. So in September I had my first surgical assessment and the good doctor was very happy to put me forward for surgery. The protocol dictates that we need two referrals for surgery so an appointment was made with another Doctor for my second assessment. This second assessment should be within 6 months of the first, so I was given an appointment on the 31st May!
I won't go into all of the details but 6 letters, seven dates and innumerable phone calls I eventually saw my second doctor on the 13th June, not within six months, indeed not quite within 10 months. Some of the alternative dates I was given would have taken it over a year and then I would have had to start all over again.