My Name Is Helen

I have the most wonderful and exciting news and I want to share it with you.

Last Sunday I changed my name to Helen, and I use the pronouns She and Her.

Many of you will already be familiar with my gender identity, both historically and currently, so I won’t cover it all here again. I have been attending a transgender support group, and I’m awaiting counselling to help me to fully transition to living as the woman that I am. I already live as a woman at home. It’s a gentle process for me, because last time I was Helen I was assaulted twice and have been left traumatised.

A person has come into my life who has given me gender confidence, and with their support, praise and belief in me, I felt able to change my name to Helen.

In every arena of my life I have informed people of my name change, it’s not a surprise for people as I’m quite open about my gender identity. I have been accepted as one of the girls in one large social network that I belong too, and I’ve had such overwhelming amount of support and encouragement. People have been in permant contact with me. A few women want to take me clothes shopping once lockdown is over , as well as taking me to the beauty counter so I can be guided in the right shades of foundation, blush, contour and shadow. It’s wonderful.

You guys are the last people I’m letting know. But hey, it’s still less than a week. I haven’t even been on here since lockdown, my life has actually got busier during lockdown. How does that happen? Once I get my wig I may actually post a face photo on here. How novel is that for me? Love you. HelenūüĆł

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The wig I have orderedScreenshot_20200424_042310

The boots I have orderedScreenshot_20200424_042329

Does Transition Into The Female Role Mean I Fancy Men?

Often people who are not trans or in the LGBT+ community can get confused around gender and sexuality. I guess it’s an easy mistake to make.

The simple part is to remember that gender is about who and what I am and sexuality is about who I fancy.

When I lived as a woman during my twenties I was often asked by family and friends “does this mean you fancy men now? Wouldn’t it be easier to just be a gay man?”

My relationships have always been with women whether I live in the male role, or as the woman I believe myself to be. I must say though that I always find a boost to my self esteem if anyone takes an interest in me. That doesn’t make me a gay man though. I’m flattered if any one dares to fancy me (poor sods) but I don’t consider myself to be male, so I’m not a gay man. I’m also not a heterosexual woman. I’m only interested in women romantically.

Being A Trans Woman But Living In The Male Role

Looking in the bathroom mirror one day, I knew that I should have been a girl. A strange though for a severn, eight or nine year old boy to have. I’m not sure when I began to “borrow” my sisters, mum’s, or cousins clothes. I didn’t think that they knew. I nearly got caught one day. My sister was downstairs and she said something to my mum. I just knew that mum was going to confront me. At that time I had “my clothes” under my matress, (I hadn’t brought any female clothing at this point, I was too young). Climbing on to the railing at the top of the stairs I lifted the loft hatch and put the skirt and tights inside. I then went outside as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I knew they wouldn’t search the loft.

I wasn’t confronted about my gender identity until I was 16. By this time I had a small collection of female clothing hidden in my wardrobe. My mum had gone into there one day whilst I was at school because of her suspicions about me. One day my step father approached me in a relatively understanding way. It was agreed that I could wear female clothing in my room. My mum was very unhappy about this, and she didn’t want to discuss it with me, although she tolerated it as long as I stayed in my room.

Skip forward.

When I was 20 I was having psychology for my mental health problems. I had tried to commit suicide several times, I was self harming everyday and I also had anorexia. During the sessions we would also discuss my gender identity, and I tentatively made plans to live as a woman. I was struggling to live at home in female clothing, and outside in male clothes. It was a painful experience. I wanted to live as a woman, but I was scared to do so at the same time. I’m an insular and self conscious person, with anxiety that becomes psychotic and paranoid. My psychologist and I made plans for me to transition during the winter, giving me the opportunity to prepare myself for this huge change in my life.

However, during September I decided that I was going to transition into the female role with immediate effect. It was a terrifying experienced which triggered extreme anxiety, and yet at the same time I felt liberated. I was now living an authentic life, which was a blessed relief for me. My cousin was fantastic, my mum was furious, and my father did the absolute best he could. He found it difficult but he did so much research on gender identity and what it means to be transgender. How amazing to have his support. I also had a close friend who was very supportive. I’m not going to go into all of my experiences at this time, as I’m gradually using this piece of freewriting to explore and express my experiences.

During the first sixth months of living full times as a woman I did not look convincing. Because of rushing the process I hadn’t grown my hair out, and trying to have a short feminine hair cut didn’t suit my face. On top of this I was experimenting with clothes and didn’t have the greatest wardrobe. I was training my voice without the aid of a speech therapist, and this was a slow process.

On two occasions during that first six months I got assaulted by gangs of teenagers. I also had some nice experiences where strangers would come up to me and say how courageous that I was, they wished me well. It was amazing that strangers supported me, but it was also painful, a confirmation that it was obvious that I was trans. Naturally this affected my anxiety and paranoia. I was traumatised.

Over time, living as a woman became more natural, people didn’t notice that I was different. I was accepted as a woman, and the voice training had worked so well that even on the telephone I was accepted as female

However, the trauma of those two assaults stuck with me, and I was terrified of being assaulted again. Sometimes I would walk down the street shaking and with tears rolling down my face. I feel sad to think I was so traumatised. Ultimately this paranoia was so strong that I decided to revert back to living in the male role. I say role because it was an act. It wasn’t me. But the anxiety and paranoia eased and I was more able to walk down the street and engage in some sort of life.

However, not living an authentic lifestyle was devastating. It’s hard to revert back to live in the male role when your a woman. My drug use increased, as did my self harm and suicidal behaviours. I took more drastic efforts to end my life, more severe than the overdoses that I had attempted before. Somehow my body will not let me die.

Living in the male role, having reduced anxiety and finding it easier to function, but experiencing the pain of not being true to yourself is so hard to explain. I cannot find the words to express myself at this point. Maybe one day I will come back and re-write this paragraph.

Over the years, with lots of therapy, I had improvements with some of my mental health, but would have severe and life threatening relapses. The amount of times my next of kin have been informed that I won’t make it through the night is shocking. How they have coped is beyond me. During one of these times, once I had regained consciousness and spent time with my next of kin and her partner, she spoke with me and made it clear that if I didn’t get help in relation to my gender then I would end up killing myself.

There have been times I have been able to wear female clothing at home, and times where I haven’t been able to. I’m not sure how to tell you, but it’s easier to live in denial than to be female at home whilst the rest of the world sees a male. There’s has also, at times, been some inner turmoil when I’m living in these mixed gender roles.

Over the years I have become more accustomed to living in the male role, but I can’t highlight any masculine qualities. I’m sensative, gentle, caring, in touch with my emotions, able to allow people into my life, able to support people emotionally. Are these feminine qualities, or are they masculine; aspects of the modern male?

I’ve lived so long in the male role but I can’t define what being a male is. However, I can say that right now I want to live in the female role, that I’m a woman in a man’s body, that I’m scared of becoming the woman that I believe myself to be. London is far more acceptance of difference, of gender identity and of transgendered people than the small towns and cities which I have lived in. London gives me the opportunity to explore my gender more fully. Counselling is the next step, and taking baby steps towards transition. I’ve started to wear nail varnish, blouses and pretty socks when I’m out. These are but baby steps, but they are steps that I am comfortable with.

Who knows what the future holds.

If I Didn’t Have Paranoia – Exercise 1.6 – Freewriting

If I Didn’t have paranoia… I would aim to live in the female role again, and would save up for laser hair removal on my face. I find it interesting that I hate my legs when in the male role, but in female clothing and tights I find I have lovely legs that are slender and feminine, although my belly is still fat. I’d like to live in the female role, but I’m scared that I would be attacked. It wS hard to revert back to living in the male role, but I’ve become used to it now. I’ve learned to consider myself as being gender fluid, although deep down I consider myself as a trans woman. It would be nice to be Helen again.

If I didn’t have paranoia I would feel safe and secure, not have images of me and my home being attacked and feel safe in my home. I would like to be able to live freely and not live in fear for my life. I’d like to recover from ptsd, but I don’t know how to do so. Life would be more fun, and I wouldn’t have all my little measures to feel in control. Currently I feel the need to avoid the number 6. I have to have my TV volume set on 17 or 22, I finish the day by having either 4 or 8 puffs on my e cig and I have to get my clothes ready for the next day in the evening. I also feel the need to continously pray throughout the day and have my medication boxes with all of the labels facing the same way. It’s ocd, but my ocd doesn’t come out in hand Wasing and tidying and cleaning kind of way. If I don’t do these things then I get anxious and scared that me and my home will be attacked. It’s exhausting and frightening to live like this.

If I didn’t have paranoia I wouldn’t become anxious when I hear the sounds of my neighbours talking, and I wouldn’t thin that they are talking about me. I wouldn’t need to either turn up the TV or wear ear plugs so that I can’t hear them; and I wouldn’t think that when they talk they are talking about me.

My paranoia is self centred and self obsession, but I can’t help it at the moment. Maybe one day I will feel safe and secure but I don’t hold out much hope. My paranoia, when it becomes severe, leads to suicidal ideation , and I make attempts to end my life. I get so scared that I am going to be harmed. I get a strong fear of pain, and I would like to die peacefully. That’s why I overdose rather than jump off a building or poison myself or jump in front of a train.

Considering The Year Ahead, Life, Death And Photography

It would be impossible to think of the future without considering that there is the potential for me to die from heart disease. As you’re aware I have decided not to have surgery for my heart condition. I can see how dieing could be a scary experience, but I have been at peace since making this decision.

Knowing that I have a limited time left has most certainly helped me to focus on living well and considering whether my daily actions improve the quality of my life. This doesn’t mean running around like a mad march hare and doing, doing, doing. Sometimes I just want to sit still and do nothing, others I want to read or birdwatch, and occasionally I want to be around people.

I’m not used to being around people, and I can struggle even when I’m around those who I love and feel safe with. Getting the balance right for me isn’t easy, I’ve had a wonderful Christmas, but I’m ready to go home now.

When I return home my plan is to begin meditating daily. Meditation is most definitely linked to my creativity and photography. I have a few ideas for photographic project’s and I know meditation will help with developing these. I have vague ideas about making photos with others who identify as being non-binary or gender fluid, and making use of masks or props to explore and express gender identity.

I’ve particularly enjoyed my embroidered photography this year, for my project “Some Emotional States Of My Anorexia, And The Strengths Of My Recovery.” I completed the project just before Christmas, but I don’t feel ready to make these public at the moment. The wonderful thing is that I already have a gallery/arts project who would like to exhibit the series. I can see the potential for building upon this work to explore mental health further. Meditation will definitely aid my progress in these areas.

“Snippets” is a series I’m currently working on in which I write down snippets of overheard conversation and take a photo in the area of which the conversation was heard. I got the idea from a fellow OCA photography student Chloe Halstead. The idea is to have this as a long term project using my Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and to present the series as a photo book.

Hopefully I will also have some news about my application for a bursary to study an Open Foundation in Creative Writing, with the Open College of the Arts, I can feel some more photo essays coming along.

Colour is also going to feature in the clothes I wear, it’s time to bring more colour and variety into my attire, and today I’m top to bottom in yellow. I’ve also seen some green corduroys that I like. I’ll give them some thought.

I guess I’ll need to tone the colours down when birdwatching, something which I plan to do more of this year. I’m so grateful that I discovered RSPB Rainham Marshes. One thing that would aid my birdwatching would be finding a teleconverter that I can attach to the front of my Mzuiko 75-300mm lens. I can’t currently afford one. However, I have four photos appearing in The Loudest Whispers exhibition, run by The Arts Project London, during February, March and April. If they sell then I’ll be able to afford a teleconverter. Fingers crossed.¬†

I don’t have a bucket list, but I would like to be able to go on a birdwatching holiday during the summer.

Wishing you all a wonderful year ahead.

Reflection On A Question On Gender And Identity – Exercise 3.10

The brief for exercise 3.10 can be found at the bottom of the page.

Gender and identity are important to me, and are significant around the world at the moment. People are being able to explore and express their identity, and statues, laws and policies are being changed to recognise that gender is not a male female polarisation. we all know that our chromosones and genitalia define whether we are legally a man or woman, but gender is not as simple as this.

What the bloody hell is gender I aks myself? Truth is I realy do not know. We are socialised into behaving in certain ways according to whether we are a man or woman/boy or girl. But if we are socialised into this behaviour then surely we cannot say that this is a true reflection on gender. Socialisation means that gender roles can be different depending upon culture, class, ethnicity and religion. Gender roles have also changed over the centuries. So is gender defined by what we wear and the unequal division of unpaid labour within the home, then to me, this is not gender, it’s culture. There is far more that I could explore here, becaue it’s a theme that matters to me, but I’ll leave that for another day.

When I read the brief for this exercise I knew that I would not be able to complete it. My anxiety is high at the moment, so I could not make a formal portrait of another person. But I did not want to avoid the exercise. After assignment two my tutor and I discussed how I could develop a body of work which explores identity, where I use masks and props with a variety of people, in a manner that they feel represents an aspect of their personality. I figured that I could do this with self-portrait for this exercise.

This has been one of the most fun photo shoots that I have made. It’s not perfect and there are some points of learning for me. This series will need to be re-worked in order to be added added to the Identity body of work (which will not be about gender per se).

The shoots took place over two weekends, and at slightly different times and lighting conditions, which is where the issues lay for me. The first weekend I shot the ‘female’ clothing with the male mask, and the following weekend the ‘male’ clothing and the ‘female’ mask. The props include the books on the sofa, which and in my hands (which are photography related), the photos above me in the seated photos, the book case, the crystals, two masks, different outfits of clothing.

In the diptychs that I have presented as a seperate post (see here) I have tried to match composition and tonal range, and in Lightroom have set the white balance the same through out the eight photos. Because I shot over two weekends then thematching composition is ok, but will be better with a re-work of the series. I have tried to demonstrate¬† what may be defined as male body language where I am wearing the make clothing, and female poses in the female outfits. The clothing, body language and masks are a relay between the photos and the title ‘A question on gender and identity’. I felt that the title gives the viewer space for contemplation, without requiring further introductory text. People can make of it as they will.

In order for a successful re-work I need to

  • Invest in some lighting equipment
  • Have a technician to take the photos
  • Buy a new mask for when I am wearing the male clothing
  • Use a cream foundation as a base and then the powder on top
  • Re-touch lipstick frequently and use a slighlty brighter colour
  • Take all of the seated shots at the same time with all sets of clothing
  • Take all of the standing shots at the same time with all sets of clothing
  • More male clothing outfits

I made several hundred photos for this shoot so evaluation and selection has not been easy at all. It involved going through a process of adding picks and labels in Lightroom and going through the “cut” process in which i delete photos, on five occasions, and finally I printed contacts in black and white so that I could make the final selection by matching tonal range and composition, without the element of colour to disteract me.

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Leaving out photos that I like, but that did not fit in with the series was hard. There were thre that I particularly liked, but as I am developing as a photographer I am learning to avoid attatchment and personal involvement where I can, so that I can have a more objective approach. This is very much a learning process and work in progress for me. The following are tow of those favourites.

On-Gender-and-Identity-5

Over all I am pleased with the diptychs that I have produced. They refelct aspects of my personality, the staging and composition are ok, but with room for improvement, and the masks and props work well.

The Final Four DiptychsOn-Gender-and-Identity-1

On-Gender-and-Identity-4

On-Gender-and-Identity-3

On-Gender-and-Identity-2

Brief:- How would you make a formal portrait of someone, that tells the viewer about that persons charachter, life and interests but remains subtle and restrained? Making a ‘formal’ portrait is a ‘real world’ scenario for most photographer. It’s generally a full-length portrait of a person whowing their whole figure deliberately posed to be the main subject of the composition. It wont include exessive display of emotion or activity. A formal portrait demands great care over the composition and the lighting. You will need to make many exposures to capture a meaningful portrait from your subject. Wait for your subject to relax. Be alert to their nuances of facial expression and gesture and try to find a ‘real’ face, not a self-conscious or smiling or ‘this is how I want ro be seen’ sort of face. By juxtaposing significant elements (props, setting, clothes) in the frame, you’re setting up a kind of ‘dialogue’ between them, in which a resonance should occur, but try to remain subtle. Before you start, research the photographs of Rineke Djkstra and look at Thomas Struth‚Äôs portraits on the Tate website:http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks?aid=2339&ws=date&wv=grid

Two Shoots In One Day – Part Three Nearly Complete – Busy Week Ahead Pufflings

I’m exhausted and I really should be in bed already. The busy week ahead is fun. Photography for enjoyment, slowing down, mindfulness and switching off. Fingers crossed that I see and photograph Pufflings – I’ve not made that up, baby puffins are indeed called Pufflings.

There hasn’t been the time to catch up¬†with everyone’s blogs¬†today as I have been making photos for part thee of Foundations in Photography, which is now almost complete. I have one more shoot to do, which is the compliment to one of today’s shoots. Then I have to develop and upload everything.

I have a large collection of crystals and minerals. and I’ve been photographing them in different environments over the past week, for exercise 3.12 (2014 manual), Photography as Research.

In collaboration with a friend I have the photos ready for 3.7 A Significant Object.

Today I have undertaken a part of exercise 3.10 – A Formal Portrait. I’ve blogged before about how I need to make this shoot different from the brief, so I’m taking the time to follow my tutors advice from the conclusion of assignment two. For this I’m going to create a body of work which questions identity, and today I’ve been exploring gender. I’m pleased with today’s results, and I look forward to making the photos for the contrasting set. Gender and gender identity have been featured on the news and in journals a lot recently. Gender is such a broad field that I have narrowed my view down to gender identity. What is gender? Male, female, transgender, gender non binary, gender queer, asexual, third gender. Self identification has become a hot topic and it’s now possible, in some countries, to have your gender altered on your birth certificate and passport, and in more enlightened Nations it’s possible to tick a box for Non-Binary gender. The following is just a test shot and doesn’t include the props or staging.

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A Staged Photo is one option for assignment three – A Narrative Photograph. At the start of part three I had an idea which I wanted to explore in relation to gambling. It’s been in the news a lot recently due to fixed odds betting terminals, and their impact upon individuals, families and communities. There has been some government intervention over the past couple of years, with the development of gambleaware.co.uk . On the one hand I think it’s a good idea to have a specific means of help for those who identify that they may have a gambling problem, but my main belief is that it’s a token gesture so the government looks like it’s tackling gambling addiction, when in reality it’s doing as little as it possibly can. The government has no intent on helping those with, nor preventing, gambling addiction. There’s far too much tax involved for the government to want to change the status quo.

My staged photo is an exploration of this. Here’s a taster from today’s shoot.

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There isn’t going to be the chance to follow your blogs for around three days. Phone signal is poor where I’m going, so I’ll catch up on Thursday. Happy snapping.

Exercise 3.10 – A Formal Portrait – Planning – Self Portrait -Gender – Identity

Self-portrait-2

This is a scary one for me because I am going to need to make this a self-portrait. As you are aware I do not have anyone that I can work with on this, and although I had initially considered working with one or two people who I know who are homeless, my mental health currently leaves me unable to approach people.

I have anxiety about revealing myself, so I am going to build upon my tutors feedback with regard to assignment two. She suggested that I explore identity by making portraits of people and by using masks where possible.

The brief is quite specific about what a formal portrait is, and I am choosing to break away from it a little, otherwise I will not be able to complete the exercise. I hate my face right now, so I cannot create a formal portrait of myself in which my face is revealed, it wouldn’t help my mental health.

So I am going to create a multi layered approach that will include the use of masks, clothing, and current books and camera, to explore questions around gender identity along with practice representations of my current lifestyle. The use of masks will mean that I am breaking away from the brief and also respecting my needs with regard to keeping my mental wellbeing as well as I can.

The photos in this post are self portraits that I have taken in a manner that I can cope with sharing with others.

Richard Keys