Stage Fright

The dazzle of the stage lights gave everything a surreal, fairy-tale feeling. The music struck up and the tutu-clad girls on stage launched into their routine. We’d practised and planned and enthused for weeks about the spectacular show we’d put on that night; the moves were carefully choreographed and smiles were plastered on the faces of all the girls on that stage… All, that was, except mine. I was standing in the wings, paralysed by the weight of fear and expectation as my five year old counterparts tapped and twirled to the delight of their gushing audience.

That’s kind of how I feel today. Swept along by ‘New Year, New You’ mania on social media and gently prodded (literally, and not so gently) by the ever-tighter waistband of my jeans, I’ve devised a whole list of plans and goals for this year. There are so many things I want to achieve before 2015 is out, personally and professionally: I want to build a successful business (when I say “successful”, I mean “something that earns more than nothing”). I want to lose weight, and have a baby (contradiction, much?). I want to be a better mum, a better partner and an all-round better person. I want to survive the things that I know life is going to throw at me this year – divorce, transition, and a new hair colour. Oh, and above all that, I want to help the people around me achieve their goals too. EASY.

So yeah, it’s standing room only on my To Do list. Plus I sort of forgot that leaving 2014 behind didn’t mean leaving all its stuff behind: there’s no clean slate today. All the stuff I was dealing with last week still exists, it didn’t disappear in a puff of smoke when we popped the champagne cork at midnight on New Year’s Eve (who do I speak to about that?) That’s why I found myself this morning standing in the wings of 2015’s stage and suddenly have a massive attack of The Fear. How on earth am I going to do it all? Frankly I’ve got no idea how I’m going to survive this day without a bacon sandwich, a Galaxy and a glass of wine, never mind the 360 days that follow. I don’t even know if I’m capable of starting a business never mind make a success of it, and you can’t order babies from Just Eat (mmmmmm… Just Eat). All of that stuff is going to need patience, courage and determination, and I’m not sure I’m up to the job. I’m wearing my proverbial tutu and tap shoes, but I’m not sure if I can remember the moves.

I’m flipping the bird at “New Year, New You”, because I’m the same old me and this year won’t be new for long (although can we talk about how long it’s acceptable to continue saying “Happy New Year” before it’s just awkward and weird?) This is the part where I was going to write about what I’ll do instead, but I haven’t actually worked it out yet. I guess the best bet is to keep my eye on my goals, do the best I can and try to enjoy the journey without being too hard on myself. Oh, and keep a stash of Secret Chocolate in my desk drawer for emergencies, because no-one’s perfect…

Dear friends and family…

Dear friends and family,

We write this because we have some news about our lives that we’d like to share with you. We hope that, by sharing it with you in this way, we’ll be able to explain the entire situation fully and without interruption. It means you all get the same information at the same time, and you all hear it directly from us. Are you sitting comfortably…?

Many of you will already know that Justin is transgender. This means that he has been diagnosed with a condition known as Gender Dysphoria (GD). GD affects approximately 1% of the population, and can often be difficult for the remaining 99% to understand. In very simplistic terms, it means that the gender a person is on the inside does not match the physical gender they have on the outside. GD is not a sexual preference, a lifestyle choice or a fetish, it is a medical condition (it’s probably relevant to mention at this point that it’s not considered to be a mental health condition, it is regarded as a physical condition. The cause is unknown, but thought to be related to hormonal or cerebral development of a foetus). GD is an extremely difficult thing for someone to live with, and the only recognised cure for it is gender transition.

Without going into too much background detail, we have tried possible methods of trying to deal with Justin’s Gender Dysphoria. However, he has reached a point where managing it has just become too difficult. After much thought, soul searching and discussion, we have made the decision as a couple that Justin will now begin his gender transition and live as female. By the time you read this, our parents, close families and respective children will all have been told about this decision.

The next time you meet us, you will meet Pauline and Jess. Some people have already asked us if we’re staying together, and the answer to that is a resounding “yes”. In short, we each love the other for who they are on the inside, and how we look on the outside is secondary to the individual personalities we both have. This is a long journey into the unknown for us, but regardless of the physical changes Jess has ahead of her, she is still the same person on the inside that she always was. In fact, that’s the whole point of transition – for Jess to change her physical appearance to match the person she has always been on the inside. These last few months have been very challenging for us as we’ve taken this huge decision followed by the tentative first steps of our journey but, as we thought might be the case, it’s made us closer and stronger than ever.

We know that some of you will be concerned for us as your friends, and that most of you will understandably be concerned for how this will affect the children. Please be assured that we have prepared ourselves as well as we possibly can for the journey our children will make with us, and we have already made sure that there are support mechanisms in place for them. Not only do they have us, but they also have their other parents who are fully informed and will work with us to support the children. The professionals we have spoken to, along with families who have gone through this before us, have told us that children usually deal surprisingly well with this change. They also told us that the attitudes and support of the adults around them directly affect their attitude to it. We hope that those of you who choose to stay in our lives will help us to support them. Our children are loved and cared for, and we are confident we will continue to provide them with the loving and happy home they have had until now.

So, that’s our news. We understand many of you will never have come across Gender Dysphoria before, or known someone who is transgender. We are always happy to answer questions about the condition itself or about the transition process (provided it’s nothing too personal!). To the friends and family who have supported us through these difficult early days, we owe you a debt of gratitude. The unconditional love and friendship shown to us by you has been truly overwhelming, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

With much love,

Pauline and Jess

Dear Pols…

Life has been interesting lately. Actually, that’s an understatement. Life has been a roller coaster lately. Highs, higher highs, lows, long slow climbs that you just know have an enormous drop on the other side but aren’t quite sure how far the drop is, and a whole plethora of emotions. I haven’t blogged about any of it because, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I ever want to be able to revisit most of those places in the future. I do know from conversations with lots of people, though, that I’m not the first to be where I was, and I’m certainly not the only one to be in that place right now.

As you all know, I’m partial to the odd trite saying. I love a cheesy cliché, I do, and recent times have been no exception to that. Naturally, my corny catchphrase of choice of late has been “this too shall pass”. It got me thinking… It WILL pass. Of course it will. Everything does. But where will I be when events of the last few months are filed under D for Distant Memory? I guess the answer to that is that I don’t know (who does?) but I’m thinking best case scenario here, and having a word with the me who emerges from this in twelve months’ time…

Dear Pols (aged 34 and just-over-a-half),

How are you? With any luck you’ll be reading this in the same place I wrote it: at your desk in the office at home, looking out at the children playing in the garden. They’ll be bigger than they are now but I don’t expect they’ll have changed much otherwise. This past year will have been tough on them at first, but I suspect the children you see in front of you now will have adapted nicely; they’re tough little cookies and they have your (our? This whole writing-to-yourself thing is kind of weird) strength of character. It’s that thing Dad used to say, isn’t it? Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. It has been tough. Horrendously tough. Unexpectedly and unpredictable tough. But we’re tough too, and so are those children, and that’s why I can write this knowing we all got there in the end.

You’ll have learned a lot in this past year, I expect. One of the lessons I’ve already learned is that sometimes there is just no right way to handle a situation.Or, if there is, it usually comes with the benefit of hindsight. I guess everyone in life is just muddling through as best they can. Maybe other people would have chosen different ways or different paths, but I did the best I could and I hope the road I chose for us has brought you to a destination where you’re happy. I’m pretty certain it has. When I look around me now, I see the green shoots of a promising future. The clouds have been many, but the silver linings have been plentiful too and I hope they’ve long outlasted the clouds.

I’ve been working harder on being kind to myself, so hopefully I’ve made that job easier for you. I’ve learned recently to take the lessons from the times I could have handled things better, and let the rest go; chuck them in that proverbial fuck-it bucket and move on. I’ve also learned to stop taking responsibility for the way other people deal with situations. I hope that’s worked out well for you. People react to stuff in their own way; it’s not your job to work through that for them or to accept responsibility for how they feel. Nor is it your job to guide them to the truth, or to explain yourself.

You have some really wonderful friends, Pols. People whose support and love has been unending and unconditional. I hope you have the opportunity to repay that to them one day. Meantime, they know how much they mean to you because I’ve told them. You should know who your friends are by now, because I’ve pretty much figured out who’s in it for the long haul, and who isn’t.

I know this will find you in a house full of happiness and love, because that’s what I’ve been building for you. A wonderful, crazy home with laughter and fun and a never ending source of strength. You’re loved, you’re wanted and most of all you’re utterly fabulous. I know that last bit because someone we know told me. Your future is bright, and anything else will pass.

Be happy, Pauline. Let me know how it goes.


Pols (aged 33 and just-over-a-half)

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Remember to see the beauty in the everyday things around you, and find joy in the little things. Always look for the best in people, but offer your trust wisely. Trust your own judgement; your gut instinct is rarely wrong. Don’t engage in gossip, and remember that when people gossip about you it says more about their character than yours. While small minds indulge in idle gossip, great minds ask questions in search of the truth.

Be true to yourself, because when you’re alone with your thoughts there is no hiding from the truth. When others doubt you, you will find comfort in your clear conscience. Before you judge others remember that you only see them where they are now, and you were not there to witness the winding path of their journey. Be tolerant and compassionate, and challenge your own views. Never allow a cry for help to go unanswered, and never be afraid to be the one in need. There is no shame in weakness, and there is strength in vulnerability. Value those around you. Money is the currency of the world, but love and friendship is the currency of life: spend time, save memories. Cherish those precious moments, commit them to memory. When times are tough, these memories will wrap you in the comfort of better days.

Sometimes, your love and friendship will be misplaced. Betrayal may hurt, but don’t allow it to break you. Accept that you can never change the past. Park it, take the lessons you need from it, and continue your journey free from the burden of things which have gone before. Turn and face the sunshine, so the shadows are always behind you. Dream big, and don’t be afraid to make those dreams a reality.

Live fearlessly.

Laugh freely.

Love completely.

Love. Love transcends everything. Tell people that you love them, because sometimes it will the the one thing they really need to hear. Offer your love without conditions. Allow your love for others to consume you. Bask in the warmth of being loved. Show people that you love them, because your actions will speak more than your words will ever be able to say. Love is more than a single emotion; love is an experience. Share it.

Carpe Diem. Seize the flipping day.

And so it begins…

Hello, lovely readers.

It’s been six weeks now since I angrily bashed out an open letter to the editor of Now! magazine after their infamous “21 Shocking Bodies” cover appeared on my Twitter timeline. I was typing on my iPad with one hand, and using the other to vacuum the lounge (I make a point of doing it at LEAST once a year), thinking a few people might read it and someone might even comment. You know the rest… lots of people read it, many of them took the time to tweet, email and comment their agreement, and the editor of Now! magazine invited me to meet with her to discuss my thoughts.

Tomorrow, I’ll do just that. Sally Eyden and her staff have been helpful, friendly and engaging in their various communications. Jess Spiring, Assistant Lifestyle Editor, has arranged an interesting afternoon and a diverse group of guests to take part in the discussion. I’m looking forward to it, and no doubt I’ll be made very welcome. Reading back, my letter was angry and confrontational… And I stand by every word I said about that cover.

The representation of body image in the media is an issue for all of us. It’s not just about equal rights for us plus-sized hotties (though we deserve that, too). In fact, last year Now! ran a “Oh no! Rise of the extreme skinnies!” cover, so the body shaming isnt limited to bigger women. It’s not even about the right of the women splashed across those covers to be left alone. It’s about the widespread and damaging effects that this culture of reducing women’s worth to their body size and shape, has on women and girls.

I asked today on Facebook and Twitter what message people would like to send to Now! on this subject. The responses were a resounding “leave our bodies out of it; we’re so much more than a dress size and wobble factor”. Mums told me stories of their slender eleven year old daughters refusing to wear certain clothes because they look “fat”, and of primary aged girls posting “hot or not?” photos of themselves and their classmates on social media. Worse still, I heard about parents encouraging this behaviour. Women asked why their dress size is considered the pinnacle of their achievements, and why the media equivalent of pointing and laughing is not only acceptable but lauded as great entertainment. Other women want to ask the Now! team what exactly it is they’re trying to achieve, and if they feel this relentless bitching about women’s appearances represents a positive role model.

We all love a great cliché, and the one that springs to mind here is “With great power comes great responsibility”. Now! magazine has a circulation of roughly 208,000. Add to that the circulations of similar magazine, the buyers of which will doubtlessly see the Now! cover when making their selection. Now consider the women and girls who’ll see these covers on shop shelves, hairdresser’s coffee tables and waiting room shelves. You can choose not to buy magazine which splash these irresponsible and belittling headlines across their pages, but you can’t avoid them completely. More to the point, the girls growing up in our society can’t avoid them.

I was really thrilled to see, among the list of panel members for tomorrow, the name of a prolific and successful campaigner for positive body image. As the founder and CEO of a charity which raises awareness of body disorders and celebrates individuality, I look forward to hearing her explain just how far-reaching the consequences of this sensationalist media can be.

There is no question that Now! magazine isn’t alone in this type of misogynistic, anti-women behaviour, but change has to start somewhere. Sally Eyden and her team have an opportunity to blaze the trail of change; to step up to the responsibility that their position in the media brings and to entertain, empower and celebrate all women for who they are.

And so it begins…

(Also joining the discussion tomorrow will be blogger Kate Taylor who, after reading my letter, was inspired to write this)