Love, Hate and Violence….

Over the last few years my eyes have been opened, wide. I knew, being transsexual that, when I transitioned, there would be prejudice and a certain amount of hate possibly levelled at me, but I hadn’t reckoned with the absolute levels of hate and violence against trans people as a group, and the sources of it.

It seems that, having spent much of my life in a drunken stupor (see here), I had missed out on a huge chunk of what was going on. I was so, so naive. To me, church was a place you went to talk to an implausible being who was probably too busy anyway, a Christian was someone who did this, turf was sheets of grass used to make a lawn, right-wing was something to do with politics and prejudice and discrimination happened to other people. How things have changed. How I’ve grown up. I’ve had to. Transition is not an easy journey.

There have been the changes socially. I get treated as a woman. Doors opened for me (nice), people talk to me more, especially other women, shopping is a much more fun experience, even silly things like male drivers letting me out at junctions. There are some not-so-nice changes, (I’m not complaining, just commenting), mainly things I took for granted pre-transition, such as being treated like I don’t know anything in DIY shops, (having a pink toolkit recommended to me!), and car shops, but the best is computer shops where thirty years in the business gives me a chance to have fun.

But then there’s the hate and the violence. The sheer immensity of it is staggering.

It appears that much of the hate for us is Right-Wing (largely) Christian led, mainly in the US, but there is a large component here in the UK. They run around, selectively quoting the Bible to justify their hatred and intolerance, pointing at us and calling us abominations, freaks, and worse. Then they say they can cure us, with love and God’s grace but, when that doesn’t work, its back to inciting violence and hatred.

Then there are the TERFs, (TransExclusionary Radical Feminists), feminists that want people like me dead, who would look upon a trans suicide as a victory, who see us as nothing but men in dresses raping women. Feminists like Cathy Brennan, Janice Raymond and Victoria Brownworth to name but a few. I have read some of the TERF websites and Twitter postings with a kind of horrified fascination that this sort of thing could actually exist.

But the worst hate of all is the fear and hate generated by ignorance. The fear that some people have of the unknown. This is the hate that kills, the hate that destroys lives. This is the hate that is fed upon and encouraged by the Right and Christian Right and TERFs, the hate and fear that is turned into violence and murder. The hatred that causes the 44% level of suicides of trans people and makes stepping out the front door a nervous journey into unknown familiarity for many more. The hatred that has killed more than two hundred trans people in the last year for no better reason than who they were, and has given rise to an annual Day of Remembrance.

The hatred and fear is real, visceral. The only weapons we have are law and education. Knowing a thing removes the fear of that thing. We can only show that we are people trying to get on with our lives. We only shout and make a fuss when we are treated less than any other, when we are pushed to the back of the bus. Otherwise we want to live without fear of being killed simply because we are truly ourselves.

Please Note: This article was originally posted in The Girl From Nowhere

Media and Misinformation….

In this glorious new internet age we are bombarded by the media. 24 hour news channels both online and television, online newspapers, online news sites et al. The sheer quantity of accessible information is staggering. Unfortunately not all of it is correct, and some of it is just outright lies. In this information age, misinformation is one of the biggest problems. People believe the media, believe what they read in the papers and online. They believe what they watch on the television, what they’re told but, if the facts are wrong then there will be problems. For trans people, these problems can be huge, even deadly.

As you may, or may not know, there was a big misinformation campaign against a trans student by a US right-wing group called ‘Privacy For All Students’, featuring the Pacific Justice Institute. I’ll not repeat it but you can read about it here. The story was picked up by US national newspapers and television stations, including some here in the UK. Amazingly, not one of these media outlets fact-checked the story. They just assumed it was true and it continued to spread. It wasn’t until the story was fact-checked by Cristan Williams of The Transadvocate that the truth finally came out. The whole story was manufactured, false, but the damage had been done. The student in question ended up on suicide watch.

This is an extreme example of how the media can be manipulated and be made to serve others’ malicious purposes. Here in the UK we have another problem. Not one of malicious, targeted campaigns, but one of long term, inertial misinformation.

Ever since the seventies and eighties, media outlets such as tabloid newspapers and mid-morning chat shows have portrayed trans people in a bad light, misrepresenting us in such a way that we became laughable, objects of ridicule to be pointed at in the street. For trans women it was worse. We became ‘blokes in dresses’, ‘freaks’ and ‘weirdo’s’. We were having sex-changes, being castrated, hormones were giving us instant female bodies. Tabloids were obsessed with what we were wearing, rather than our actual stories. There was rarely any reporting of the story behind the person, documenting the pain behind transition. The stories always seem to rest on the phrases “I felt like a woman” and “I always wanted to be a woman”, making it sound like a decision taken one morning after breakfast. No-one took transsexuals seriously. It was seen as ok for us to be beaten in the street, have graffiti daubed on our homes. To be transsexual was to be an object, non-human almost, worthy of none but the most base attention.

Nowadays, things are different. Or are they? With certain newspapers the reporting hasn’t changed all that much. Neither has the language used to describe us. Still the process of transition is glossed over, making it sound like something you do in your spare time. No information is imparted to the readers or viewers about what transsexuality actually is. The differences between Gender Identity, Expression and Role is rarely, if ever, mentioned or explained. We are still seen as the subject for salacious gossip and maliciously intrusive reporting. The case of Lucy Meadows is a case in point. No link between the reporting and her suicide has been established but there is no doubt, in my eyes at least, that it was a contributory factor.

I would appeal to the media, should any member of it read this, to change. Change the way our stories are reported. Do your research. Fact-check stories if and when they come in. Speak to trans organisations such as GIRES and Mermaids, (when reporting on trans children and teens). Rather than concentrating on what happens to our genitals, ask us how our lives have changed, how much better they have become. Listen to us, ask us questions and we will give you answers. We are the ones living our lives, the ones who can tell you how we feel, no-one else. Don’t ask us what we wear day-to-day, ask us what we do day-to-day, how we live and work, and you will see how ordinary we are.

Remember: In our quest to become who we really are, we go through incredible changes, painful changes, in order that we might live ordinary lives. We suffer prejudice and bigotry, some of us on a daily basis, so that we may fade into the background and become someone you will pass on the street without a second glance. All we ask is the right to live without fear of hatred, to walk the streets and go shopping or visit friends without the fear of abuse and this can only come about with the help of the media.

After all, if its in the paper, it must be true.

Labels and Liabilities….

Just lately, I have come to realise that there is a big, big problem within the LGBT community and it seems to reside largely within the T, or Transgender, part of said community. The problem is labelling. Who am I? What am I? For myself, I find it quite easy. I am a woman. Unfortunately one with a male body, but a woman nonetheless. In the medical profession this would classify me as a ‘transsexual’, an easy to remember term that denotes what I am without the need for long explanations. For others its not so simple. For the sake of clarity though, I will write within my own sphere of experience.

So, what are these labels? In the context of this blog they are the words used to describe a person’s gender identity in relation to their physical body. They are used to replace long winded explanations. For example, as I have said, I am a woman, but I am also inhabiting a male body and am undergoing male to female transition to correct this in the best way possible. Rather than saying all this each time I meet someone, I can just say “I am a transsexual woman”. Thanks to the media, both social and audio/visual, most people I am likely to meet will probably have a simplified view of what a transsexual is and what it means. They may know the basics and need further clarification but, overall it gives them a starting point of reference.

Since the early ’80’s another term has slowly crept into use. This is ‘transgender’. It is meant to be an umbrella term encompassing all those gender non-conforming labels. Unfortunately it has also become interchangeable with transsexual, and also become the seemingly preferred label. It has since been shortened to ‘trans’ or ‘trans*’, usually to denote a transsexual person but also to describe anyone who’s gender identity or presentation is outside the ‘norm’, (whatever that is). It can be confusing. One can say “I am trans” or “I am transgender” but, does that mean transsexual, transvestite, gender-queer, agender, bi-gender, etc? You can see the problem there. For most transsexuals the problem with the trans* label can be relatively easy. A male-to-female transsexual, like myself, can also be a ‘trans woman’ and female-to-male is a ‘transman’. Simples. I have to admit though, when talking to older people I still use the term ‘transsexual’ because its the term I grew up with.

It’s with the usage of such terms that the problem I mentioned earlier arises. Unfortunately some within the trans community have become extraordinarily sensitive to usage of terms and is ever ready to jump up and shout whenever they are misused or misconstrued in public, in the media or anywhere else. Rather than helping, this approach tends to hinder the trans community by giving the appearance of weakness and insecurity. I know there is a possibility of me upsetting some people by saying this, (and I apologise in advance), but, jumping up and down like spoiled children every time someone misuses a term of reference creates and reinforces an image of uncertainty, of self-doubt. I know that misuse of labels and terms can result in problems, (it has for me, several times), but the correction needs to be made calmly and clearly, not by pouting and shouting. If the person being corrected acts like an idiot then, by all means, treat them like one, but we shouldn’t act the same. We suffer enough problems as it is without creating more ourselves.

The requirement for labels is a distinctly human problem and is one of language. It gives us a point of reference to work from. It enables us to be more succinct and to the point in our speech. Language evolves over the years, words change meaning, new words come to the fore and each time we need to adjust. Mistakes will be made, misuse and misunderstandings will happen and will be corrected. People will be angry with the misconstruction’s and mistakes and that can’t be helped. What we need to do is remember this and make allowances. Only then will understanding and acceptance be forthcoming.

Otherwise the labels become liabilities.