It might be when Mark’s gone to sleep, or perhaps I’m home alone, but I only really feel safe when I’ve tidied the house, washed and dried the dishes, popped the laundry on, locked both locks on the front door and closed the kitchen one, with me inside. I’ll have the big light on and sit with my back to the wall, knees bent and the washing machine to my left. I like watching it go round, and I think the people who make washing machine’s understand this because they always come with a window, don’t they? So I can’t be alone, there must be more people like me. I like it because it’s the only window in the house that no one can look at you through.


My favourite part is when the clothes have been through the first cycle, where they get all soapy, and it fills with clean water and the dirt comes out. How simple it all is! No knuckles rubbed raw like our grandmothers’ – no heaving buckets of water from the fire. You just sit there and the bad things are washed away behind that solid glass screen. It never leaks. You wait for your clean clothes and the potential they represent: another day they can be worn.

People often tell me I’m intimidating but that makes me laugh. I don’t know why my heart beats faster, sometimes, and that dark unease washes through me like a cold wave of sexual pleasure. I don’t know why I jump at the doorbell or why my eyes fill with tears when the phone rings and I don’t know who’s calling; why I panic and worry and obsess over the smallest of problems. When I think of all the things I have dealt with – and there’s been so much – I tell myself, you know, you really should be stronger. The truth though is that I just don’t think I can cope with any more devastation… yet it lurks around every corner. I listen out for it, sometimes, the sound of guns, or sirens, maybe, shouting and screaming, buildings crashing down. Because there’ll be noise, won’t there, when the world crumbles? When the washing machine’s on, though, all I hear is that whirr, that sea-like slosh.

Sometimes I’m inside the washing machine, tossed around as floral scented water fills my lungs.

I always worry when I’m in public. Perhaps someone will shout, “You’re not a woman, who do you think you are?” like they have before. It hasn’t happened for a while but the fear that it will again, that I’ll be humiliated, do you suppose that ever goes away? So I feel safer at home, yes – but even then there are threats. What if the gas leaks and I have to go outside? What if there’s a fire and nowhere to return? What if people knock on the door, what if they want something and say, Quick, come on, come outside because it’s not safe here anymore? Maybe they’ll come and do that, one day, throw my mattress out the window and me after it. It’s not safe to put your trust in houses. They get blown down.

But if someone knocks on the door while the washing machine’s on you can say, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting anyone. I’m just waiting for the washing machine to finish before I go to bed,” and everything’s all right then. You can’t leave before the cycle ends, can you? You’re not a man or a woman either: you’re just someone who’s waiting for the washing machine to finish. You’re a legitimate person. It’s allowed.

People don’t usually knock on the door late at night, on Sunday, while you’re sitting on the kitchen floor watching the washing machine go round. Sometimes, when I see the water drain, I reach up to a button at the top that says “Extra rinse” and a light comes on to let me know I’ve pressed it properly. They’re good, those little lights.


5 thoughts on “THE GREATEST COWARD

  1. Rhonwen Sayer says:

    “I was a launderette junkie ….. – ’til I OD’d on rinse&spin”

  2. Mark says:

    Beautiful writing Paris. Love this.

  3. ollie says:

    Gorgeous and moving. Thanks 🙂

  4. Aidan Tagg says:

    ‘The Greatest Coward’?… the greatest survivor and a person who sparkles like cloudy lemonade.

  5. Do I suppose that fear of being humiliated goes away … I know it does, or that it can go away at least … I’m Nikola from Australia. Found your blog the other day Paris, and bookmarked it.

    I’m seeing a Therapist over 11 years since the surgery that I thought was going to end my transition. But the truth is that the effects of my upbringing, the time before transition, the humiliation I used to receive as a kid, at school, high school, at work and then through transition takes its toll and manifests in a number of ways in all aspects of life and need to be sorted through, acknowledged and understood.

    For me it was mostly talk of sex, started by “friends” to watch me squirm and go beet red, then I’d not be able to answer a ringing phone for fear of who it might be, I’d stutter and stammer, sweat, and of course I’d like to lock myself up at home … still do.

    Anyway, I’m getting on top of other people’s attempts to humiliate. The best advice that I can give is to get to know who you are. Get to know who you are and why you are who you are, understand everything that’s happened to you and why, and acknowledge it and own it.

    I used to beat myself up for not knowing stuff that then lead to being humiliated. But now I know why I don’t know some things and I know that it’s okay, because I know who I am and I know that I’m okay. I know there are reasons for who I am and what I know and don’t know and it’s helping me immensely to deal with the feelings that you describe in this well written post. Hope this helps.

    kind regards


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