Charlie Kiss, author of “A New Man” at Troubador Press, spoke to us about his memoir – a unique insight into protest, mental health and, ultimately, the under discussed world of transitioning from female to male.
- What drove you to write this book?
I wanted it to be known that I had been at rock bottom, both materially and mentally and that it’s possible for people to come back from a very low and frightening place. I found some experiences difficult to talk about and easier to write about, in particular when I suffered mania.
I also wanted to explain in a way that people would understand what it’s like to experience being in the wrong body. My hope is that for people who read it, they will learn more about both being trans and also separately being mentally ill. I also felt that it was eventful life, that I had a story to tell and that it would be of interest.
- This is genuinely one of the few female to male trans books in existence – why do you think it’s such an under-discussed subject?
There are three FTM books produced in the UK that are biographies These were published in the 90s when trans men first appeared on the scene. I suspect that trans men experience the process of transitioning easier than male to female trans people.
I know of trans men who merge into the male world and rarely use the word trans. Many are not in any trans community and the only person who knows is their partner and family. So, maybe it is perceived as less necessary. It’s less of a deal for many, especially the younger you transition which is more common now. So if the books are only about transitioning, I would envisage that they would be quite similar.
- One thing I really liked about your book was how it was far more than just a book about being trans or the trans experience – why did you decide you wanted to write a fuller memoir rather than focus on that one aspect of your life?
The transitioning aspect was a major event of my life but I wanted to talk about my whole life, and what it was like feeling male whilst being a lesbian feminist and how I arrived at realizing I needed to transition.
I also wanted the book to explain why I am involved in social activism and politics because my experiences as an anti-nuclear protester, and bi-polar sufferer shaped my views on homelessness, prison and inequality in general.
- The section of the book dealing with Greenham Common, protest and your time in prison for your activism there are really fascinating, especially as for many of the new generations of activists this is ancient history. Does it feel like a very different time for you? Like a previous life?
Greenham with its strong women only stance and highly insecure living situation caused me a lot of psychological pain and problems. I hated it at times, so, it’s only in the past few years that I’ve been able to look back and truly see how amazing and daring and ground breaking it was, as a protest. Not quite a previous life, then but a life I wanted to distance myself from.
I look back and see myself as a passer through- not a maker. There were aspects that I found acutely embarrassing- such for example the focus on spirituality and goddesses. I didn’t identify with any of that.
- Obviously the women of Greenham had a very specific view of men and the patriarchy – how have your former comrades from the camp reacted to your transitioning?
I’m only in touch with four. Two accepted my transitioning more or less unquestioningly. Another found it hard but eventually accepted it. The other woman, thought I’d still be welcome in a women-only space, so that implies my maleness wasn’t really accepted or believed.
So in short, I don’t know about all the others.. But I did hear recently that one radical feminist believes that trans men ‘have opted out of oppression’ -this of course negates the hell of the mental turmoil myself as a feminist had to go through to realise I would be so much happier, not to mention the ordeal of surgery.
- You are one of a small minority of people who have lived their lives outwardly as a woman and a man – what would you say the main differences were in the way people treated you then and now? What are the best and worst aspects of both, from your perspective?
Difficult to answer this briefly! And how men and women behave towards you varies. Also I found interactions with men particularly hard as a woman so I avoided them as much as possible.
As a woman: Best aspects. Men are protective to you and make allowances – the bar is set lower. (not that I especially liked that) Women are friendly to you. In fact both men and women are friendly to you as a woman.
On the downside both men and women afford you less respect and listen to you less.
As a man: Best aspects. Men treat you as an equal on the whole. Women might flirt with you.
On the downside men are competitive with you and are rarely friendly. Women are much less friendly and instead are often suspicious and even overtly hostile to you.
Charlie will be speaking in Sheffield on Saturday the 28th October, at 6pm in New Roots on Glossop Road, S10 2HP (there is disabled access round the back, so all welcome!), Free admission.
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