A little Girl and her Fishing Rod.
Although I don’t like to bother readers of my blog with too much introspection and personal detail I feel that my latest gallery might need something by way of explanation. On the face of it, it is just a gallery of a lot of very pretty girls in the great outdoors fishing; usually without too much in the way of clothes on. Nothing wrong with that. It has somewhat of a greater significance to me though and one which I hope I can adequately explain without sounding barking mad.
Regular readers of my blogs and stories will have noticed several references to fishing in them. In my blog on storms for instance I described a day’s shark fishing that I participated in off the coast of Southern Portugal. There is even a short story called “Gone Fishing” in my archives (which I may resurrect and repost) called “Gone Fishing” about two young lesbian girls on a fishing trip with ulterior motives. From these posts some people may have discerned that I have a love of fishing which, given my gender identity issues, some might find surprising. In fact fishing is closely woven into my own personal struggle with gender identity and is a lasting legacy of my early battles as a c***d with my gender.
I would hope that gradually there is a growing awareness of transgenderism in very young people in the last few years and that there are more sympathetic approaches to such young people as they struggle with their gender identity. One would hope that there is a movement towards allowing young transgendered c***dren to more fully embrace the gender identity with which they feel more comfortable and to permit them to live as closely as possible within that identity. When I was a very young c***d however such was not the case.
In the days of my c***dhood transgenderism was scarcely recognised other than as a c***dhood phase at best and a rather embarrassing disorder at worst. A prescribed means of dealing with the manifestations of a young c***d who refused to conform to its apparent physical gender was to promote activities to reinf***e the stereotypical roles of the gender they were supposed to be. A transgendered c***d that was supposedly male by its birth certificate was therefore discouraged from feminine activities and actively encouraged to take up pastimes and interests that were more traditionally male in the misguided hope that this would somehow make a man out of them!
Now I have big issues about the notion that there are things that boys are supposed to do and things that girls are supposed to do. I think most people these days will recognise that these are hopelessly inadequate and outmoded means of defining a person’s gender. But it is not so long since (and in many places still the case) that boys and girls were considered to have very distinct and separate ranges of activities that they were supposed to indulge. Little girls went ballet dancing; boys took up boxing etc. Well at the last Olympics I watched girls beating the crap out of each other in a boxing ring so that kind of falls by the wayside! Nevertheless there was and to some extent still exists these stereotypes.
Among the many ways that my mother, without the guidance available now, attempted to man up her impossibly effeminate little boy, some were more successful than others. Football was one of them and I was actually very good at the sport although I hated the macho posturing and aura surrounding it ( I am of course referring here not to the game called “football” in The United States of America but the sport the rest of the world calls Football!). Rugby, I hated with a passion. Even so I was quite good at rugby as well simply because I was so fast nobody could catch me. There was a reason for my fleetness of foot on a rugby field. It was FEAR! You learn to run damn fast when you’re a tiny little thing being pursued by half a dozen gorillas whose soul intention is to pound you into the mud and jump up and down on the remains. I didn’t like rugby at all!
I was even sent to an all boys school which, as you may well imagine, had its ups and downs! Some activities did encourage my mother however. Making model aeroplanes and ships was one thing boys were supposed to do and actually I loved it even if the er... colour schemes on my creations left a lot to be desired on the masculine side of things! Another thing that encouraged her to believe that there was hope in my turning into a proper little boy was my love of the outdoors and nature. I was always fascinated by the natural world and loved to collect flowers, insects and other a****ls. I adored all living creatures and I rapidly filled our old disused garage up with my collections of creatures; tanks of frogs and toads, stick insects, hamsters, mice, rabbits, Guinea pigs, a grass snake, my pet crow, half a dozen assorted cage birds, tanks full of pond life and caterpillars that I watched over eagerly for the day they would turn into butterflies. I loved them all. I loved to walk out with our two dogs and I brought home so many homeless kittens that we were pretty soon over run with cats.
I loved fish as well and I can remember catching little sticklebacks in a farm pond with a net and housing them in a small aquarium. I had a male that came into breeding with a female and built a nest for her. I spent hours hovering over the tank in excitement as they went through their courtship ritual. Possibly it was this that gave my mother a new idea.
I think she may have discussed it with some man or other but one day, as a present, she gave me a fishing rod. (“Get the lad a fishing rod! That’ll soon make him forget all these girly notions!”) Well I didn’t know what to make of it. I was aware in a sullen sort of way that it was yet another attempt to turn me into the boy I had never felt to be and I half just wanted to chuck it into a cupboard and forget about it. But I was duly furnished with this fishing rod, a reel full of monofilament line and some sundry accessories and told to take myself off to the riverbank and try to be a fisherman. Little girls didn’t go fishing of course. It was very much a boy’s sort of thing. I was about 9 years old.
Obediently I took myself along to the banks of the River Ouse with my new fishing rod in hand and tried to see if I could fish. It wasn’t too onerous a burden to be honest for it was a lovely summer’s day and I always loved to be outdoors. There were water voles splashing about in the river margins, moorhens weaving in and out of the reed beds, dragonflies dancing along the water’s edge and willow warblers singing from the willows overhanging the river. There was the electric blue flash of a little Kingfisher darting upstream and butterflies feasting on the nectar of the bank side flowers. Best of all I was all alone.
As a transgendered c***d; the odd one, the one who doesn’t fit into the world around you, you quickly discover that the more people that surround you, the more lonely you feel. Alone and surrounded by nature I didn’t have to pretend to be something I wasn’t; nobody telling me to act more like a boy. I could be just what I wanted to be. It was the beginning of freedom.
My new fishing rod wasn’t much of a fishing rod to tell the truth. It was pretty obviously some old rod that had been lying around in somebody’s shed from the dawn of time essentially. It was solid fibre glass perhaps eight feet long and hopelessly antiquated even back then. It was accompanied by an antique old centrepin reel full of line, a float, some lead shot and a small packet of size 16 hooks. It wasn’t a promising combination and in truth I would have been happy enough just to sit there by the riverbank and forget about trying to use this fishing tackle. Nevertheless I felt it incumbent on myself to make some kind of effort. I duly threaded the line through the eyes on the rod and, after some experiment, managed to attach float and lead shot to the line and to tie a hook onto the end without impaling myself.
For bait I had an old tobacco tin full of maggots. I was fortunately not squeamish about creepy crawlies and I managed to attach a pair of these unfortunate larvae to my hook. Then with a good deal of trial and error I managed to cast the rig out into the water where it sort of lazily drifted about a few feet out from the side and wafted towards the trailing branches of a venerable old willow hanging over the water. Content that I had at least tried, I took my shoes and socks off, sat on the edge of an old storm drain and dabbled my toes in the water humming to myself happily.
I don’t know how long I sat there perfectly happy and at peace with myself but at some point I looked up and could no longer see the red tip of my float. Puzzled I picked up my fishing rod and gave the line a tug. There was an electrifying sensation on the end of the line. Excitedly I reeled in and there, firmly impaled on my hook, was a tiny fish perhaps four or five inches long.
It was a fish called a gudgeon, long and elongate in mottled olives and browns with a hint of blue sheen to its sides. They don’t grow very much more than a few inches in length. In the old Victorian days parties of elegant ladies and gentlemen would hold gudgeon fishing picnics by the riverbanks and grill the tiny little fish like whitebait on open fires for they are reputedly good to eat. Indeed there was apparently even a whole set of lore concerning the catching of gudgeon. Tiny red worms were considered the best bait for them and experts advocated raking the muddy bottom of the river to excite them into feeding. These days hardly anybody would fish for these tiny fish deliberately and they’d probably be considered more a nuisance than anything else.
But, to me, that little gudgeon was wonderful and I stared at it ecstatically. They are, it has to be said, undeniably cute little fish with their mottled flanks and over slung mouths with two silly little barbules hanging from them. They even feel nice with smooth soft skin. I was delighted with it. I managed to carefully extract the hook from its tiny mouth and then, squatting at the water’s edge, I released him back into the water, watching fascinated as he darted off back into the depths.
The river had changed. The surface of the water had now become this mysterious barrier to a whole fascinating world beneath, hiding these entrancing creatures beneath it. I very much wanted to see more of them. For the rest of that afternoon I stared eagerly at my float willing it to bob beneath the water. My vigil was rewarded when a little later a second gudgeon managed to allow itself to be caught by possibly the worst angler in the world at that moment. That was all I caught that first day but those two little fish did a better job of catching me than I did of them.
To my mother’s delight I went fishing every chance I could get after that. Nobody taught me how to fish. I painstakingly learned it all by myself. Indeed I shunned other people by the banks of the river, guarding my solitude and privacy jealously. Slowly I got better. The gudgeon were usually reliable and there were also the ugly and spiky little Tommy ruffe and the sparkling little quicksilver bleak to catch. If I was lucky sometimes I’d catch a small perch; all bold green and black stripes and bl**d red fins. Best of all was if I managed to catch a roach; gorgeous silver darlings with red fins and a red eye. One day that summer I caught one that must have weighed half a pound. It looked enormous to me.
They were days of magic and the banks of a river or lake and later by the shores of the sea were the places where I found peace in myself in my troubled youth. With a fishing rod in my hand it was just me and the natural world around me and the pressures of the world about me to conform to a gender that did not belong to me vanished. The waterside was the place where I found myself. My hair grew long and, in my shorts and top, anybody passing by on the riverbank would have seen just a little girl staring excitedly at her float bobbing on the water.
Of course I exploited my newfound freedom ruthlessly. Had my mother really ever felt that I was indeed that little girl that found her peace by the water it is unlikely that she would have ever let me go off fishing on my own all the time and even spend nights by the lakeside trying to catch carp. She never really understood that fishing never turned me into a boy.... it just turned me into a girl that happened to love fishing.
And I still love it. Much later in life I would turn my love of it into an academic pursuit. My Master’s degree thesis was on the environmental impacts of Victorian society on British freshwater fish species. I’ve fished in high mountain tarns and streams for wild trout, great rivers for salmon, enormous lakes for the predatory pike and sat at dawn by lakesides with the mist rolling off the water for the lovely green tench. I’ve fished the rolling waters of the Atlantic for Blue Sharks and cast into the winter surf for cod. I’ve cast a dry fly onto magical chalk streams for brown and rainbow trout or battled with barbel and chub in fast flowing rivers. I’ve fished the deep water over wrecks for the big cod and ling or cast lures for the mackerel from the seaside pier.
This then is the reason for my gallery. It is a celebration of the outdoors and the waterside; a woman and the beautiful fish that swim beneath the water’s concealment. The waterside, is in the end, my refuge, my sanctuary, the place where I am beholden to nobody but myself.