Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The gym experience

My fitness in recent years has been something that I have felt has become very important to me. I remember starting running back in the time when I was dealing with coming out and how it would help me find the time to deal with all the thoughts and feelings such a process would evoke. 

I always found running to be the most useful of all exercise for this reason. When I reached the start of the process that leads to surgery, I knew that I had to do something about my weight. I was obese at the time and I embarked on a plan to lose that weight so that it would not be another barrier to stopping me getting what I desperately needed. I started running every day with a five o'clock in the morning start. I found a lovely route where we lived at the time, along the river Tone and then back along the canal. This not only helped me lose my weight and actually bring to a healthy level of fitness but also helped me with all the issues I was having getting to the surgery.

The surgery itself obviously put a halt to all of this and I slowly started to gain weight. Once I was given the all clear by the surgeon, I did restart running. Initially I was surprised at how little fitness I lost and within eight weeks of restarting, I ran a half marathon distance. Soon after this though, I started to encounter some issues and found I was struggling with a strange kind of fatigue when exercising. I learnt a few months later that it was possibly high levels of oestrogen. Once I dealt with this, the running became easier but I had gained some more weight and kind of lost my running mojo. At the start of this year, I signed up for the Taunton marathon and found this gave me the inspiration to really work at it again. Nine days into this, all of a sudden there was a sharp pain in my right ankle and I realised there was something wrong with my Achilles tendon. I limped over three miles back home and that was the end of that for a time.

I turned my attention towards my swimming instead but with our wedding in April and a holiday in June, the weight continued to climb and I eventually reached the point where my weight was back to where it was prior to losing it all in 2014. We (Mandy and myself) were finding the public swimming pool was becoming a difficult environment. Apparently they often get busier through the spring and school holidays are an absolute nightmare. I had some problems and felt management were ignorant of my issues. We decided at that point we would explore the possibility of joining one of the gym's in Taunton. We knew that the Nuffield in the town centre had a 20 meter pool and whilst this was not so long as the public pool, it would still be good enough for our fitness needs. 

We phoned them on the day that we had had a bad experience in the public pool and within a couple hours found ourselves being given a tour of the facilities. We both felt it had a nice and welcoming atmosphere and decided to join. Our plans were just to use the swimming pool and not use any of the rest of it. 

I did manage at this point to manage to get running again and had some good success. However the injury at the beginning of the year returned although not quite as bad. This led me to explore the options of using more of the gym which included visiting a trainer. 

My thoughts on gyms over the years were based on stereotypes of people who tend to be members and hardly use them. I have known many gym members who were less fit than myself and just as overweight. There is also the perception that those who do frequent the places typically tend to be men with ripped abs who live in them 24/7!

My thoughts could not have been further from the truth! The last month has seen us both exploring the gym to a much greater degree. For a start, the staff have been very friendly and welcoming; the front desk practically know us on first name terms! The pool is a much friendlier place than the public pool. It is still not perfect, there is the occasional ignorant asshole, but generally everyone gets on with everyone and all abilities of swimming are respected. In addition, there is a hydropool that is a lovely delight to sit in after a session of swimming. When we moved to our flat here, I had to give up my bath in exchange for our walk in wet room. Using that hydropool is a good replacement for that with its lovely warm water and jets of bubbles. I know they're breeding grounds for bacteria but it's loaded with chlorine and tested often so I have to trust in that. There's also a steam room and sauna and so far, I keep to the steam room.

Outside of the pool, I have found the equipment in the gym to be useful. When my Achilles went again, I booked in with a trainer and he showed me where to start. I was given some instruction in cross trainer, rowing machine and exercise bike. My first time going on my own, I decided on a Monday morning as soon as the gym opened its doors at 06.15. I felt that at that time, it would be nice and quiet. Again, this place continues to throw surprises at me and I was shocked at how busy it was. Just driving into the car park, I sensed there were a lot of cars in the car park. One going upstairs to the gym, I found it was very full indeed. I put on my MP3 player and then set about going through my routine. Over the last few weeks since doing this, I have extended my times and started to enjoy actually going there. There is a good sense of achievement when I leave, perhaps this is because I have to go out of my way to do the exercise.

There is more too and as part of discovering new interests, I decided to look at the wealth of activities the gym has to offer. From various Circuits activities to boxercise and even dancing, there are lots of things to discover. Every weekday has at least a dozen to choose from. Something I looked at was Yoga, and a couple of weeks ago I enrolled in the Monday night group. This was a whole new experience and there was a little trepidation when I walked in to a room with at least twenty other people as a complete newcomer to do something I had no idea about. It was good to go last night and feel part of group because when I walked to the studio, three people said hello to me and I even chatted to one lady prior to the activity. Yoga was cancelled however and it was Pilates instead. This was much more intense than the Yoga and not so much what I was looking for but hopefully Yoga is back next week. 

We have been trying to get Mandy included as well and a trainer is looking into what she could do from her wheelchair. This might involved some of the equipment but also the trainer is going to contact some of the activity trainers and see if Mandy could be included for some social activity as well. Mandy has also partaken in some swimming lesson and this has boosted her confidence massively.

It has not been perfect, there have been a few bumps. We have encountered extreme rudeness from one of the aquafit classes that saw fit to walk across in front of Mandy when she was ending her swimming lesson. I have been misgendered by one of the staff but I have got to the point where even this is not a bother to me any more.

There is also a whole social dynamic that is not apparent from the outside. As time goes by, you start to get to meet and talk to new people. Even though there have been few words exchanged with the early morning users, I am starting to recognise a few familiar faces. It is the same in the pool and this has benefited Mandy greatly, there are one or two she converses with regularly. 

The changing room is a whole new experience too. This was something I wasn't quite ready for initially! We have a separate disabled changing room when I go with Mandy, but this still means we have to traverse the communal room to get to that. Mandy doesn't really understand why this took me a while to get used to, but this is my first such experience of these rooms as my true gender and walking through with nudity everywhere was something I hadn't quite been prepared for. Of course now, I strip off with everyone in the morning and display my body without shame. It's not a pretty sight, there is a great deal of flab, but the rest of my body makes me very happy. It took a lot for me to get this body, more than nay ciswoman, and I am not ashamed of it any longer.

The whole gym experience was something I was not expecting and has enhanced our lives greatly. I don't think we could ever go back to the public pool again.

Friday, 15 July 2016

18 months post-op

***Content Warning*** 
Discusses matters of a sexual nature
Please click away if this is likely to offend.

It is unbelievable that time can go so quickly, but two days ago I found myself realising that I had had my surgery eighteen months ago. It seemed an insignificant milestone at the time, I nearly didn't realise it occurred, but on reflection it was more important than I realised.

It is quite good that I didn't actually do a twelve month update. The changes that have occurred between six and eighteen months have been incredibly subtle. Reaching this point has made me realise that it has taken all this time for the surgical site to properly heal.

I have had granulation issues internally for all this time and it is literally the last few weeks that have seen the issue disappear. Even so, I don't think it is fully gone but the pain and small amount of discharge it was causing seemed to have lessened greatly. Ironically this issue made me approach my GP and we embarked on a path of getting gynaecology to deal with the issue. They refused, saying I needed my original surgical provider to deal with it. This was not possible as we were outside of the window that the Brighton Nuffield were responsible for my care. 

There are many stories of Trans Broken Arm Syndrome and this was a classic example of this phenomenon. I wont belabour this update with the details, it would make a good write up of its own, but suffice to say that I embarked on the warpath with our local hospital and they did back down. I did not need them in the end, as the problem had lessened but it highlighted to me that even someone like myself with a GRC and a hide-able history of being Trans, is still likely to encounter problems. I am convinced Transphobia was displayed here too, but it would be difficult to prove. 

Dilation had moved on a great deal in all this time. I am now just using the 40mm on its own, straight in and for twenty minutes. I brought out all my dilators the other say to show someone who had never seen them and seeing the might 40mm against the tiny 25mm that I started out with was startling! I have now moved to dilation once every five days although the guidance says I could go to once weekly. I have taken dilation very seriously since I started out and I feel that is too big a step so I am adjusting it over time to get it to that once a week. It is hard to imagine that I was doing this three times a day!

I mentioned at six months how I had had my first orgasm. I have continued to explore this side of things and found there was a learning curve attached to it. I have found that the more that I utilise my sexual function, the easier it gets. Not only that, it gets better too! I remember orgasm in my past life and they were nothing compared to now. It's a completely different experience, a much more all over body feeling as well as an emotional satisfaction. It sometimes takes me as much as five minutes to come back down to Earth! Very little has changed in my approach six months ago, vibrators and such like do nothing and it is simply a finger rubbing approach to the clitoris that works. 

This makes me realise how little guidance we are given for something that is very important and I am painfully aware of how many post-op ladies never manage to have an orgasm. The only guidance I had was to get a vibrator from LoveHoney (seriously, this is what the post-op guidance says) and yet that was my biggest mistake. When I realised how easy it was with just my fingers, I started to think how many others are making the same mistake by following the guidance and then giving up. 

I have some sensation internally but not enough to bring me to orgasm. Sometimes it can enhance a clitoral orgasm but rarely do I get much more than that. I have used vibrators/dildos, fingers and even the occasional penis (yes really!) but they just add a nice feeling to what I already have. Mandy and myself have had to completely revisit our sex lives since my surgery, but we both agree that my transitioning has made things even better. It is less frequent than before but so much more satisfying.

It is also important to think about everything emotionally since my surgery. I have seen more developments in myself as a person since this event than during transitioning. I have reflected a great deal on why this was the case and feel it is down to the removal of the reminder of the past me. Now that I feel truly complete, I can explore properly who I am.

There has been a great deal going on in the last eighteen months. My work at the Laurels has been a massive influence on who I have become. It has given me the confidence the examine my future and realise that counselling is the way to go. I thoroughly enjoy the work that I do and taking it to the next level feels like a massively exciting challenge. 

Just over a week ago, I was voted Chair at our local Independent Advisory Group to the police. I have been a member of this group for over two years and to have the support of the members to elevate me to this position is very rewarding. It is quite apparent to me that there is a lack of women in such positions in Avon and Somerset, let alone anyone with a Trans past. This is another new challenge in my life and helps me develop my skills with interacting with people as well as helping me hone my organisational skills; I have lost track of the emails I have sent in the ten days since taking on this role!

In addition to all this, I have been working with the Avon and Somerset police raising awareness of Trans issues. I have addressed a couple of groups recently, one as large as 35 people and this has boosted my confidence greatly. I just talk about my life, my transitioning and the difficulties of the people that I work with. It is enlightening to know that people want to listen and learn but it is also sobering to realise how much ignorance and misinformation there still is amongst cisgender people. There is still a long way to go in helping society understand about us. That is how I like my approach, enabling cisgender people to understand our lives and how they can support us without being patronising or condescending.

This eighteen months have been a monumental roller coaster of a ride and the next few years seems equally exciting!

My GRS time-line :


Sunday, 3 July 2016

A new chapter

I wanted to write an update of what has been happening over the time that I have not been writing, but yesterday was a very exciting and important day and that seemed to be a much more relevant topic to be describing.

I have spent the time since my surgery reflecting on where I would like go with my life. I am a full time carer for my wife Mandy, but I do not intend to pursue this for imminent future. I will always be her carer, but I also have a life, a new life so to speak to explore and a career as the true me has become a tantalising prospect. Of course, I have not just gone on a decided to abandon her or even taken any steps without a great deal of discussion with her. We have enlisted our social worker and there will be support available once I start to do something.

It was inevitable with my previous Samaritans work and now my continuing work at the Laurel's, that some form of work linked with that would likely. I have had many discussions with the therapists at the Laurel's, and some deeper ones with Lynda, my previous therapist, and Maria, the team lead. I feel that a career in counselling beckons. 

I did my research and asked many questions and this led me to the Iron Mill in Exeter. There is very little in the way of training offered in Somerset, particularly quality accredited training. It is the accreditation with a professional supervisory body that I feel is very important to me. There are counsellors out there with some very questionable training and colleges that offer such training. I do not want a piecemeal collection of certificates as some have, I want a quality academic background that would lend me skills that are equally as good in quality.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, BACP, are the main accreditation organisation for this field of work and the nearest place to me was the Iron Mill. Ironically, their college is literally a stones throw from the Laurel's. I have sat many times in the therapy room with Lynda staring across at their building, it being nothing more than an attractive piece of architecture and finding it interesting to find myself in that very building looking back across at the Laurel's.

I had already applied for and been accepted on the Certificate in Counselling. It is a short course but a requirement for most further training. It will look good on a CV but very little use for anything else apart from enhancing my skillset alongside other work. To properly offer counselling, I must at least do a Diploma in counselling and I need the Certificate to be accepted on to this course. 

Yesterday was a Taster Day offered by the college. For a few quid, you would have a full day with the tutors, see the inside of the college and engage in some activities to help decide which course you would like to apply for. Although I had already applied for my course, I felt it would be a really useful exercise in just being able to see inside the building so that when I arrive in September, I would not feel to out of depth. A free lunch came as part of the Taster day, so that seemed to make it all the more worthwhile!

It was a strange experience driving to Exeter on a Saturday after all the Thursdays that I have done so in working at the Laurel's. The park and ride car park was eerily empty too as was the bus and it was a reflectful journey into the city. This seemed a big moment in my life and I have thought very deeply recently about where I am at with everything. I sometimes feel my life stopped soon after I left school and I bumbled along escaping into masculine jobs to avoid acknowledging the woman I truly was. I have dealt with that and feel I am almost back at the age, perhaps eighteen years old and in a position to shape my future properly now. True, there are a number of years in between, but they have little relevance on who I am now. In some ways I feel I am in a really grounded place to decide on my future. I feel young inside but have the life experience to reflect properly on choices and take counsel too. 

Once I arrived in the city, I felt I was way to early to go to the college so I found the nearest Costa. I suspect there is going to be more than a few morning visits to coffee establishments so I decided I had better start sampling them to find which were the better ones! 

Once caffeinated, I made my way to the college. Inside, I was met by the tutor and shown the kitchen. I, with a couple others, made myself a drink and we made our way to the main teaching room. Once everyone was sat, there was a brief introduction and then a tour of the college. It was a lovely old building, lots of natural light and felt like a wonderful place to learn new skills. Even better was that there wasn't a single desk in sight, apart from in the admin rooms. By far the best room was their small library. Shelf after shelf of literature on various branches of counselling, psychotherapy and much more. There were a few comfy chairs in this room and I felt I could just shut the door and spend the rest of the day there!

But, that wasn't an option and we filed back to the main teaching room. Our first task was introductions and instead of introducing ourselves, we had to introduce the person next to us. This was an exercise in listening and came very easily to myself. I talked to my partner about myself and quickly, I had to "out" myself. It is still very difficult to talk about myself, my past and my ambitions without having to bring in the Trans part because it is still a very significant part of who I am at this time. I know in years to come, this will fade but for now I accept outing myself and often it has positive outcomes. In return, I found a fascinating story from a woman which engrossed me with it's richness. 

Once this was done, we went around the room talking about each other. I was really surprised to hear so many people in the early to mid forties looking for a new start. Sometimes I feel unique or alone in needing to have to pursue such a bold new career but yesterday I was in the majority for once. Something else that struck me was how my voluntary work now puts me in a very good place for this type of academia because very few had actually tried any such support work.

We then had to go off and construct name badges for ourselves. The college tries to offer many ways to enhance skills and this means ways other than talking and listening. Seventeen of us returned to our childhood and we all set about with card, glue, stickers, pipe cleaners and much more to craft a meaningful badge. I'm totally rubbish at this kind of thing, but I am pleased with the results! Some of the other creations were works of art and over time, I suspect I am going to have to hone these skills.

We then had a talk through some of the courses offered and it was a useful exercise in being able to ask questions. Sometimes these are simple queries but important nonetheless. I felt a lot more informed afterwards about how the next few years might pan out.

Lunch was next, which offered a really nice opportunity to talk to people. Something that has really struck me since the day was how rich and varied everyone was. We all had stories and past lives, and I find this a healthy reminder than again I am not alone in having had to battle to be where I am now. 

The afternoon found us engaging in groups with a couple of activities. One was having to listen to a story and reflect on the meaning of it. The other was to pair off and one of us place objects in a sandbox to describe something in our life and then talk about the meaning of it all. It was a useful exercise in using ways other than words to talk about something.

And as quickly as it began, the day was over. Those eight or so hours really did fly by and I left fully enthused and totally excited for September when I embark on it all properly. There were three or four in the group that were probably going to be doing the same certificate and I look forward to seeing familiar faces then. I was also humbled by the maturity of those who felt they weren't quite ready. More than one had found the day a little triggering and they needed to deal with one or two issues before they were able to start such personal training.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Reflecting on my Blog

I said that I would be back at the end of June to look at returning to blogging, and here I am!

Initially I was going to have a thorough tidy up of the posts I have made so far with the intention of removing some of it. Some of the material I have written is good and useful but there were perhaps one or two posts that were written at times when I was not at my best. My thoughts were to have a good look through and delete those posts that were not so good.

I have spent a little time revisiting some of the very early material that I have written and found myself very surprised at how rich and real it still is. I approached it expecting to be slightly embarrassed at how awful it would be and yet some of those posts in 2013 felt really honest and profound. 

It is interesting the language I used then and compare it to now. One term that really stands out is the word transsexual. Back then I used to use it all the time and regularly referred to myself as such. The last couple of years has found the word falling out of favour big time as it is not really an accurate term to describe any transperson. I also feel my own thinking has moved towards the belief that I am simply a woman. It has taken the full transitioning for me to exercise that belief, even though I was sure of it all the time.

I got through the whole of what I had written for 2013 and then there was a gap. When I was starting to proceed to surgery in 2014, I restarted again followed by a another gap whilst my surgery was put on hold. Once the surgery was back on track, I started yet again and produced the largest amount of material in the nine months before, during and after my surgery.

There is some material in amongst that large section that I could change or remove. To be honest though, it is not worth my time in going back and reading through the whole lot just for that exercise. I am relatively pleased with what I have written over the entirety of my blog and have no qualms about leaving it all in place for the time being. It has been a useful medium over the last few years, and prior to that when I had my HTML website. Occasionally I stumble across someone who has accessed my blog for resource purposes and this also lead me to keep it in place.

My life is again changing over the next few months with me starting at college to form my new career. Up to that time, I feel that there is again a desire to write. I feel that eighteen months on from my surgery, I can give a perspective of what life is like for a formerly transperson. How day to day activities are for someone who is congruent in their gender.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Returning to the blog

I admit that I have contributed nothing to this blog since last October. It has sat here, quietly doing nothing but I have discovered that more than a few people have been putting it to a positive use. 

Mandy and myself have done a few radio interviews over the last nine months and we found out that the manager of the radio station used this blog to get an insight into myself and Trans people. We also were on local TV recently, and the lady that interviewed had also utilised my blog to get an insight into my world. I also came across a counsellor that educated themselves for a job interview working with Trans people by reading this blog. Finally, I come across people during the course of my work at the Laurel's that have also used the blog, particularly regarding my lower surgery.

This has led me to reflect on what to do with this material. Do I tidy up everything, remove some of the weaker material and keep the useful stuff as a resource base for people? Do I remove the blog completely and give myself a higher level of privacy? Do I examine the blog and perhaps continue to contribute to it again?

I am kind of thinking that I will do a little tidy initially. There is much useful material that I will keep, such as the whole surgery story as well as other writings that would be useful to a transitioning person. There are some posts that are just low mood whines, that served a purpose at the time but are useless to anyone now. I also need to update the "about me" to reflect where I am now with myself. I also think an index to get to important information quickly would be useful.

I am going to do this over the next few weeks. Once I have it where I want it to be, then I am going to start contributing again and feel a perspective of life after transitioning might be useful to people. 

So, to any regular visitors, stay tuned. I will be back properly by the end of June.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Putting a positive spin on hate crime

This week has been National Hate Crime Awareness Week in the UK. It started on Saturday 10th October and yesterday saw this come to a close. Recently I have been involved with Avon and Somerset Police with transgender awareness and because of this, I became involved in their celebrating diversity campaign.

It is hard to imagine how a positive aspect can be put on something so awful as hate crime but I really feel that a great deal has been achieved this week because of this campaign locally and nationally.

To start with, I was asked to contribute my story to the police website, which can be found here. I spoke to a lady last week and was asked to get my story and message into 300 words or less and this was no mean feat! There was much use of apostrophes and it was incredibly difficult, but I managed it. 

Not long after it went on the website, I was contacted by BBC Radio Somerset. They were particularly interested in my story and felt it would be good to run as an item on their breakfast show. Local radio is a far cry from my usual listening fare of Planet Rock but this felt a good opportunity to help spread awareness of hate crime.

The next day we were visited by a journalist, Rachel, and she had more than one idea in mind. Primarily there was the interview about my recent assault but also they are running an item next week about couples and how their relationships change with time. There can be no better story than a transitioning couple and we agreed to do an interview for that as well. 

We initially talked over the assault and then Rachel started the interview proper. I was surprised at how well I managed to hold up the conversation and together with some input from Mandy, we got more than 13 minutes of recording. We then proceeded to do the other interview and then spent more than an hour talking to Rachel. I think she was gathering information for future reference and I was happy to inform and educate. 

Soon after, Rachel emailed me and said they'd had to cut it a little as 13 minutes was too long. This made me a little apprehensive, was I going to be misrepresented? I was also told it would be aired at 7.05 and 8.05 the next morning. 

Wednesday came and I listened in for the first segment. It was very strange to hear my voice, which can still trigger an element of dysphoria, but I do not think I was too bad. They seemed a little keen to cling on to the physical aspect of transitioning such as mentioning my GRS in January but that was just a side thing. The media do seem hung up on the GRS and birth sex issue, but hey ho, this will change. They broadcast a shortened version initially with another interview from the hate crime lead at Avon and Somerset Police. An hour later was a longer version that went into much more depth. You can find the two broadcasts here and skip to 0.36.00 for the short one with the longer one at 1.36.00. This link stays active until the 12th November 2015.

The typical audience of this station is more mature and this makes interesting thinking as to who it would benefit. Age is of course no barrier to transitioning but the average age is reducing with many more younger people coming forward. However, there will still be older people who may be feeling that they want to deal with their gender issues and if this interview was listened to one single person and helped them, then it would have achieved something. It did have an effect on two people and that was the lady who delivers talking books for Mandy. She had heard it and not even realised it was me until Mandy had started speaking! Her husband had also been moved by it and she expressed that he was not usually an emotional person. She had not even known I was Trans either, so something for the confidence there.

It has also led to that other interview and I am led to believe that the media is starting to move to our side when it comes to representing Trans people properly. It is ironic that this week, Channel 4 have broadcast two awful programs that were wholly obsessed with genitalia and the sexual side of being Trans. This has led to an uproar amongst activists but I am also heartened by all the positive portrayals we have had with this awareness week. I know of several people that have done their own interviews across the country and I am convinced they have far outweighed the damage Channel 4 have done. 

When Rachel left us, she told me to keep in touch. Anything else that I feel may be of use to them, then I am to let her know. I will definitely keep that in mind and will pursue that avenue when I feel it is advantageous to Trans people. Both Mandy and myself have also agreed to do something with them when we get close to the wedding. 

Hate crime is not a nice thing when it happens to you, especially when it gets physical. But this week has shown that it can open doors to new opportunities. Past occurrences have led to me becoming closely involved with the police, and now media sources. By being involved it has also led to coming into contact with other diverse groups who experience the same type of crime. This has helped me be more empathic and respectful of other groups as well as not feeling so alone. It has been a very busy, long and tiring week but I have gained more experiences and possibly new contacts. It can end positively.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Taking the plunge - Swimming

I appreciate that my postings are infrequent and is a reflection on how much less I need to write about. Many times I have mentioned about the difficulties I have faced with where I want to go with this blog. Life is slowly getting to a good state of normality and this means there is little I can write about that is not boring. Life is certainly not boring but there is much less I can write about that concerns transitioning. 

However, swimming is certainly one activity that seems beyond the reach of many trans individuals, especially pre-op. I am full of admiration for those that do manage to go swimming before their surgery but for me this was never going to happen. 

I was able to go swimming from the time my wounds were externally dry, probably sometime in early March. However it never really crossed my mind because I have never had any strong desire to partake in this activity. People often used to look at me blankly when I told them this, particularly in my past life, and I have had to examine why swimming was such a negative thing to me.

Before transitioning, one thing I never liked was displaying a bare chest. It always seemed wrong for me and as I discovered who I really was, it became clear why this was the case. There were a considerable number of years where I was in denial and didn't understand it myself let alone anyone around me. Men would parade around topless in the summer and yet I found it such a distasteful thing to do. Swimming required this nakedness so I found it very difficult and shied away from it all.

Of course, after my surgery, my physical dysphoria was no longer an issue. It would be possible to wear a bathing costume without any of the "wrong" lumps and bumps showing. However, because swimming was such a negative issue before, it took me a little while to get to the point of wanting to go.

Towards the end of March, I attended a disability discussion group and in that meeting, a representative of Taunton Deane Borough Council was there displaying the plans for a new swimming pool. I did ask at the meeting whether there were any plans to try to encourage trans people to swim. Surprise was expressed as to why there would even be problems with this and I had to explain that many trans people considered swimming out of their reach. They were thoughtful and I would be contacted further down the line with a possibility of discussing this further. Typically, I was not contacted but thoughts of going swimming myself were starting to increase and by mid-summer I had decided I would be going sometime soon.

The schools were to soon break up and I felt that it might be better to wait until the children went back to school. The idea of going swimming for the first time in many years with a pool full of screaming kids was not appealing. I decided I had waited long enough for the correct body for this and a few weeks more would not hurt. I vowed that by the end of September, I would face this gremlin.

Fate can be a cruel mistress but I also believe she can be kind as well. I have made a couple of new friendships very recently and one of those happened to enjoy swimming. She seemed quite surprised that I had not been yet when I spoke to her in August and I explained that it was on my list and that I was just waiting for the kids to go back to school. She said she had a spare bathing suit that might fit me and would I like her to come with me the first time? I had already decided I was going to do this anyway but to have someone accompany me the first time was a golden opportunity. The lumps and bumps might be gone but I was going to be displaying a lot of flesh in public.

The bathing suit was a good fit and we then looked at the timetable for the local pool in Taunton. Friday was the day we decided as it coincided with Mandy attending her day centre. 

We dropped her off and then had to wait out a couple of hours before the pool was available for the public. A little wander around town and a coffee got us to the right time and we returned to the car to collect our swimming gear. It was then that I discovered that I had forgotten to put a parking ticket on the car and miraculously I had not attracted a penalty. I then paid for one, thanking my luck.

In we went and paid our money. The changing room was a much different affair that the last time I had been there, probably more than ten years previous. In past times, they had male, female and family changing areas. Now it was all just one massive unisex area with cubicles to change in as well as shower and toilet areas. I found a cubicle and got myself undressed and into my swimwear.

I was surprised at how relaxed I was when I opened the door to the public whilst dressed in this small amount of clothing. Something I had built up to be a massive thing over all these years was actually quite a non-event. My friend had also gotten dressed and we deposited our stuff in the lockers and went out to the swimming pool. I sat on the edge, remembered how cold swimming pools can be and then got in. I thought to myself how easy that had been. 

We then swam to the far end and I found myself quite surprised at how much it made me out of breath. I often go out for very long runs, 9 miles or more but that 15-20 metre swim was hard work! We chatted a while whilst holding on to the edge, mostly about how I felt and then swam back. We continued this cycle for the next hour, talking and swimming and I found myself surprised at how sociable this activity could be. We eventually decided we had had enough and it was time to go. The showers were surprisingly warm and after changing back, we found the changing area even had hair-dryers!

It was a reflective time afterwards, this was such a big issue for me and it turned out to be so easy. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt so much enjoyable than it ever had in my life. Perhaps by being so comfortable with myself, I was able to relax properly and partake in the activity. I had always puzzled why people enjoyed swimming so much and perhaps now I can relate a little better to this. I also think that this is perhaps the last thing I had to do for myself since transitioning. There is such a big list of firsts when you set out on this journey and I can't think of much else that is left. This was the final tick-box so to speak! In fact I will be back tomorrow, on my own this time.