Random Thoughts: This is Not a Diary … Cursed!

Growing Pains, Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time?

I was born cursed.

“Cursed with what?” I hear you ask.

Well, let me tell you. I was born cursed with the ginger gene! To many of you reading this now, you may feel this is a dramatic over-exaggeration of my hair colour. Some of you may be ‘ginger’ and love it. However, growing up ginger in the 70s was no easy task.

When I say ‘ginger’ I mean ginger. Not ‘Strawberry Blonde’, not ‘sandy,’ but actual ORANGE. On top of this, there were 3 of us. Me, my younger sister and my older brother. All orange!

As kids, we would be out and about with our parents, shopping, on holiday, whatever. Wherever we went we would be stared at. I mean, literally, people would stop and stare at the 3 of us. In today’s context we would be chart-topping superstars as part of ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack; we could all sing!

It wasn’t just the staring either. People would touch us. Touch our hair. Without permission. I’ve heard pregnant women say similar about strangers thinking they have the right to touch the ‘baby belly’; people they don’t know walking up to them and stroking their bump even in this day and age.

A colleague of mine has recently had cancer and lost all of her hair. She said that one of the most uncomfortable and almost distressing parts was when her hair began to grow back and people would stroke her ‘stubble.’ Generally people she knew, but some outside of the family.

I suppose the ‘Curse of Ginger’ could have caused me a lot more trouble. There were not so many gingers about in those days and many of our ‘community’ were bullied for their hair colour. On reflection, the targets of bullying were mainly boys with a ginger chip on their shoulder, so they would attack first in order to defend themselves. This did not usually turn out well.

My brother and I were both quite placid and easy going, so there was no real need for us to be singled out and bullied for our hair colour. I mean yes, there was the usual name calling—‘Duracell,’ ‘Carrot top,’ ‘Ginger nut,’ etc.—but I was never bothered by it. My sister was a totally different character, so nobody in their right mind was going to have a pop at her!

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An observation I have made about the ‘Ginger Curse’ is that, generally, if you are ginger, you hate it; if you are not ginger, you love it and want to be ginger.

Redheads (a polite way to say ‘Ginger’) are apparently the rarest ‘breed’ of the human population with only between 1 and 2 per cent natural gingers. Research has been taking place for years into the ginger gene. In the year 2000 it was discovered that the ‘mutation’ of a particular gene (MC1R/MCIR) causes gingerness and its unique characteristics.

Here we go again! Such negative connotations into the ginger gene—mutation! Come on! What about ‘Transformation,’ ‘Revolution,’ ‘Metamorphosis?’ These are all far more complimentary than ‘Mutation’. As it is, our gingerness causes us to be more sensitive than the rest of the world’s population (scientifically only physically more sensitive, but who knows, it could have an effect on our mental and emotional sensitivity too?)

Over sensitivity to temperature changes is a definite physical symptom I suffer as a ginger. In the winter, one minute I’m fine and within a millisecond I’m shivering like a Chihuahua being forced to walk in the rain. As a ginger, I am more sensitive to pain which is why, if you visit my home, you will find enough painkillers to stock a village pharmacy. During major operations as a child I required 20 per cent more anaesthetic than the kid in the next bed and I was far more susceptible to bleeding out as blood doesn’t clot as quickly. (I remember all these details from the doctors, nurses and surgeons from my weeks at a time in hospital.)

So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time? I knew I was definitely not straight when I was 15 but it wasn’t until I began my teaching career in the early 90’s amid Section 28 that I knew I was most definitely gay.

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My first true love was a senior teacher (13 years older than me) and we were together for 9 and half years. However, for all of that time, due to Section 28, due to her not wanting to upset her elderly parents, due to her not wanting to attract attention, due to parents of pupils making derogatory comments following rumours around the village where we lived, we behaved outside the home as ‘just good friends’. This most definitely took its toll on our relationship and I ended it, feeling guilty. I left with nothing.

As if this wasn’t/isn’t enough, I have battled a severe anxiety disorder which presents (when unmedicated) in a range of ways: at worst, panic attacks so debilitating I can’t function enough to even get out of bed to take a shower; at best, I have extremely tidy, alphabetically-rearranged, colour-coordinated kitchen cupboards through an attack of OCD.

I am aware of an addictive personality which is not always a negative attribute (alcohol, food, self-harm), it can also have positive influences on my life. For example, during the recent lockdown, my obsession has been with maths! For me, this has been fabulous because, as a primary-trained, non-specialist maths teacher teaching GCSE maths to excluded teenagers, I feel that, at last, I am ahead of the game.

So, the ginger curse could have been much worse for me. I haven’t ever embraced it. I have yearned for my hair to turn naturally grey for years but it’s as stubborn as I am. I am currently rocking my natural colour, which is certainly less orange than it was when I was a child, and there are definite sprinkles of grey in there, so things are looking good.

In the grand scheme of things, I am in good health, have an amazing career and a loving, generous, kind partner. Curse of Ginger? I’ve got this.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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Transitioning Triathlete: Hitting Barriers

Gender, Kimberley Drain, Sports, Transgender

By Kimberley Drain

“I can’t prove or disprove that sports are trying to put barriers up for trans-athletes, I can only tell you how I feel, and it certainly feels like sports are putting up any obstacle they legally can.”

Hello Reader,

I’m Kim. I’m a twenty-seven-year-old trans-woman from the UK. I’m an (average) amateur runner and triathlete. This is my first blog, which is all very exciting. I’ve grappled with my gender identity my entire childhood, finally coming out in my twenties. I’m starting blogging just at the point when I’m beginning the process of being recognised as a woman, FINALLY by the sports I otherwise enjoy (running and triathlon).

Not being recognised as a woman, despite being out in all other areas of my life, has been difficult. Initially, I thought it didn’t really bother me – I had higher priorities to sort in my transition, and I knew that it would take time and money to meet the relevant criteria; money in particular has been a barrier – but I feel determined now to meet the challenge.

However, when my running club’s chairmen directed me to the relevant transgender policy of EA (England Athletics) and British Triathlon, I felt excluded. Rules require me to enter all races as male unless I can prove that my hormones are in the correct range for a year. I felt I didn’t belong, and my first thought was to give up all sport. So many transpeople give up sports, which is such a sad loss. But my own club has been great about my transition. At time of writing, we don’t have a club policy on trans-athletes, because they haven’t needed one before now. We’re currently working on changing this.

To clarify, I’ve been entering all races as male to date, as the rules require. However, transmen are immediately allowed to compete as male, in my sports (running and triathlon) certainly. That’s just plain sexism in action. If you perceive transwomen as having an advantage, you clearly view that transmen don’t have one. So … because transmen are at a disadvantage and not at risk of becoming successful, people are happy? At least that’s how it looks. I’m so flattered people think I’m a threat to women’s sport, but I’m really not, and it’s just so frustrating to deal with. It really affects my mental health.

For myself at the enjoyable, but certainly amateur, local races, nobody is forced to take doping tests, although steroids may or may not be used to enhance performance, but if you’re trans, you’ve got to spend hundreds of pounds proving that your hormones have been in range for a year. I can’t prove or disprove that sports are trying to put barriers up for trans-athletes, I can only tell you how I feel, and it certainly feels like sports are putting up any obstacle they legally can. It feels like discrimination, certainly at grassroots level, where, as I said, you see no doping tests, for example. It’s not transgender people’s fault that sporting bodies around the world have dragged their feet for longer and harder than the rest of society, but it feels as if we’re being penalised … not that trans-people are that fantastically accepted, respected and generally understood by wider society anyway …

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I have Crohn’s disease and spend a lot of time at the hospital. I bring this up because healthcare professionals seem to be able to manage the balance of respecting me as a woman (despite not being assigned female at birth, at the same hospital) and assessing my trans-female body, in person or looking at scans, bloods, etc., without a problem. There’s just more dignity and respect at the hospital.

However, at a race, it’s a different story; Miss Kimberley Drain is categorised MS (male senior) at registration. When I collect my racer number, race instructions, etc., there is no dignity, no respect, no choice in outing myself. I am openly trans, but what if I wasn’t? I have spent years progressing to be my true self, but these sports might as well use my dead name. And the further my transition gets and the longer I’ve been living as a woman, the harder competing as male becomes.

But I’m staying strong. I have a lot of shit to put up with, including the transphobic comments that come with being a trans-athlete, but it all just fuels me. I just channel it, so keep it coming 😘 That isn’t intended as confrontational, as it might sound, but this trans-athlete isn’t going anywhere. I intend to carry on swimming, cycling and running, and I intend to do it as an approved woman … eventually. People will discredit my achievements, but at least I’ll finally be my authentic self in all areas of my life.

I’ll keep you updated …

Thank you for reading.

Kimberley Drain is a 27-year-old transwoman, and a club-affiliated runner and triathlete (average amateur). She is one of these strange people that enjoy training more than racing … and she’s not short of opinions. Find her on Strava.

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