The Warm Pink Jelly Express Train was a very difficult book to write. Compared to my previous one, Poaching the River, it required profound reflection and much research.
Poaching is essentially a romanticised memoir; Warm Pink is nothing like that. It is far deeper and more introspective and writing it, along with the later Why Men Made God, was what shaped my current world view.
My ideas about gender in particular were formed by the research and writing of Warm Pink. Although it is a breathlessly-paced romantic adventure, it required me to dig deep into the natures of gender and sexuality, something I had never done before.
I spent hours that amounted to weeks on forums where the subject of transgender was discussed and even invented a doppelgänger, MacShreach, to do this. (MacShreach, by the way, just means ‘Son of Shrek,’ which I thought rather fitted the character.)
But I did a great deal of conventional research too. There were precious few books and papers available but I read them all. I think the most useful was Don Kulick’s Travesti, which is a must-read, partly for the insight it gives and partly just because it’s a great book.
I learned Spanish (thanks to the lovely Fabi Pinilla, my longsuffering teacher, who became a real and lasting friend) and enough Portuguese to read interviews in those languages. This was because at the time, there were practically no such resources featuring young transgender women in English. But there were and remain, many published in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and elsewhere in South America, as well as in Spain itself, where there is a long history of transgender cultural integration. The artists Picasso and Dali associated with transgender women, as did the film-makers Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar.
There is a dichotomy between the culture in these Latin countries and that in North America and the UK. In the former, nearly all the trans women appeared to have transitioned young, often at or before puberty. They typically began taking feminising hormones around the age of 12 or 13. This information fed directly into the construction of Rafy, Warm Pink’s female lead; she tells a story typical of Brazilian trans women.
However, in the Anglo-Saxon world, the majority — by far — of trans women then transitioned over the age of forty. This surprising dichotomy was resolved by Dr Ray Blanchard in research carried out between 1980 and 2005.
At that time I thought that the consequence of the repression they suffered was that trans women were bottling up their true natures, often for decades; this was why they presented late and, because of this, I was very suspicious of Blanchard’s Typology. I had in fact become seduced by the ‘brain sex’ theory, which Blanchard’s debunks. (However, the last four years, which I have spent, cumulatively, over one of in Asia, have somewhat changed my mind.)*
I believe that as repression is reduced we should see many more girls transitioning young and the demographic should align with that which is seen elsewhere, in Asia, for example.
Back in 2005 and 2006, when I was writing Warm Pink, I was still very much in research. I believed that transwomen were being erased by society, by health professionals and in the media. In some ways Warm Pink was my reaction against society’s attempt to erase the identity of an oppressed group altogether and at the same time an attempt to artistically engage with my own attraction to transwomen.
The book was also an attempt to publicise the fact that not only do young transwomen exist, but they have established, valid, lived histories which are consistent throughout the world. They know they are trans from before puberty. Their gender dysphoria is such that they simply cannot live as boys. They are almost exclusively attracted to men, and generally prefer the submissive role in sex.
I explored these alternative sexualities through AnnaMaria’s relationship to Rafy — there was never any doubt in my mind that this was a case of unrequited desire — and Rafy’s with her prior mentor, Marina.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing I discovered in researching the book was the extensive support network that exists for young trans women. Brazil is a conundrum: the culture is viciously macho and repressive, yet there are huge numbers of trans women. Murder rates against them are the highest reported in the world, yet Brazilian transgender beauty is iconic and has been celebrated for decades; witness Roberta Close.
I struggled at first to see how this could be, but it seems that the support network is the key. Young trans girls are adopted by older trans women and then educated — in being transgender– and supported though their journey of transition, which they fund — certainly in Brazil — almost exclusively by sex work.
(I just read Janet Mock’s excellent Redefining Realness in which she describes a very similar support network and how she, too, funded her transition through sex work. I think it shows great courage and integrity that she should be so open about this and I highly recommend her book.)
This support network allows young transwomen to survive in these repressive cultures, which I was able to confirm when I began to visit the Philippines. Here, there is severe prejudice and discrimination against trans people because of the generally malignant influence of Christianity, yet trans women are everywhere. This is explained at night, when you discover an entire subculture that sustains them.
So Warm Pink is about the nature of young transwomen, of a type which is suppressed in the West. Young trans women’s narratives and lived histories were being suppressed and I wanted to redress that. At the same time, of course, the book is an exploration of my own relationship to transwomen, as a man.
Through Brian, the book’s male lead, I explored the nature of the relationship between a trans woman and a straight man who loves her. I put him in a position he could never have believed he would be in, and let him find his fate. There was no predetermined narrative and the end was by no means a foregone conclusion. It was just the way it worked out.
I gave Brian a real test, to find out what he was made of; and in the end, I think he came through with flying colours.
However, Brian and Rafy’s relationship reveals something else: transwomen feel affirmed by their relationships with men. This is part of the attraction that not only sex work, but also cabaret dancing, modelling, beauty pageants and a range of other activities have for them.
Writing The Warm Pink Jelly Express Train was a voyage of discovery for me, and I tried very hard to be true to that. The new edition, which contains many revisions, reflects discoveries I have made since it was first published, but no substantive areas have been changed.
Update June 2016
*I have changed this and the preceding paragraphs because they conflict with my current position. Over the last year I have re-read and studied as much as I can of the scientific literature that discusses transsexualism and this, together with observation in Asia, has convinced me that I was wrong in discounting Blanchard and wrong in criticising Bailey. Although I do still have difficulties reconciling some of the differences between what Blanchard predicts and what I see in Asia, these are relatively minor and in any case I am confident that further research will resolve them.
I don’t usually make changes like this because this blog is really a kind of personal diary; usually, at least till now, if I thought a certain way when I wrote a piece I would leave it. However the erasure of androphilic young TS (or ‘Blanchard HSTS’), especially since the appearance of Bruce ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner in 2015 is now so extreme that it is necessary to avoid confusion in this matter. My thanks to Kay Brown for pointing out the inconsistency.