Trans Women Are Destroying Reality….

Oh, I do so like a clickbait title, don’t you? It’s like catnip for the masses. So, seeing as you are here, you may as well keep reading. I chose that title because it seems that, lately, we trans women seem to be walking around with a Target on our backs, (notice what I did there), and it seems that the worst of it is in the so-called “civilized” United States, (note the American spelling there). Well, it makes me angry. Very, very angry. Why, you may ask. Well, the “bathroom bills” for starters. Why are these even a thing? In the whole history of everything there has never been a recorded incident of a trans woman assaulting another woman or child in a loo (or bathroom, for my US readers). For a trans woman, a public toilet can be a very frightening place to be. We just want to go to the toilet, check our makeup and then leave. Its as simple as that. Not long after I transitioned, I had to use the loo in a motorway service station on the M40. I went in to the cubicle and, while I was there, a group of women from a coach party came in. I stayed in the cubicle until they left. The reason being, I was worried that I would be verbally and physically abused for being trans. This, I suspect, is a feeling that many trans women feel in public conveniences. There is a certain feeling of vulnerability when using such facilities and that vulnerability is felt more keenly when one is trans.

Following on from that, another item on this long list, is the notion that people have that being trans is a “lifestyle choice”. I’m going to be gentle here and say NO, IT IS NOT! I could have used a larger font but I did say I would be gentle. A trans woman or a trans man has no choice. None whatsoever. Its who we are, what we were born as, what we grew up as. Some may realise later in life, some earlier, (the mind is a very complex thing) but, always, it’s knowledge. It’s not a “feeling” or an emotion. It’s not a choice or a result of upbringing. I was four years old when I knew something was wrong. What my mind was telling me was incompatible with how my body looked. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the language or the knowledge to express how I felt at the time. I just knew. I had a fairly vanilla upbringing. One brother, loving parents and a good life. It wasn’t until I was about twelve that I came across the word “transsexual” in The Sun newspaper. It, erroneously, explained what a transsexual was (after all it was the late 70’s) and it led me to investigate further. Eventually I met up with Jan Morris, via her book “Conundrum”, and all became clear, almost. It took a further year of reading to confirm what I already knew and then a further 35 or so years of self destruction and suicide attempts to finally transition. So, to all of you who think that being trans is a lifestyle choice I say again: NO IT IS NOT! Please try and understand this. There is no choice.

One more thing: If you do happen to meet a trans woman, or a trans man for that matter, please treat us as we present. It takes nothing out of your day, and it means that we will respect you too and, maybe, you will make a friend. The world could do with more friends.

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Its A Little Bit Funny, This Feeling Inside….

That’s what we have: Feelings inside. No matter what we do, no-one can see them. No matter how we explain, no-one can feel them. Not a single person on this earth can understand how any of us feel. We cannot understand how someone else feels either. This is the biggest problem we have as trans people. We cannot show people how we feel, how we suffer, how society denigrates us as less than human.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I pass through life with barely a passing glance or comment. I work in the public view yet rarely rate anything outside of the normal “ma’am”, “miss” or, at worse “excuse me young lady” (although I’m 47). Some of us, though, have problems getting a job, getting somewhere to live, even getting something to eat. These problems are purely based on people’s perception of gender, their view on how it is supposed to be presented and their knowledge based solely upon what they have been told, mainly by the media or, in many cases, their religion.

Much of what we suffer from stems from the “How can anyone feel differently to me?” attitude. Amazingly, we still feel the full range of emotions that everyone else feels! I know this may come as a shock to some but, yes, we do feel emotions. We do hurt, cry, jump for joy, feel happy, and we even bleed when we are cut, slashed and stabbed. We also feel pain when we are beaten, kicked, assaulted and, yes, raped.

There are certain segments of the population who disagree that trans people, especially trans women, can be raped. According to this small segment of the population (TERFs), this can only happen to cis-women but, believe me, it can happen to trans women, and trans men.

One of the biggest problems that trans people face is the questioning of the validity of what they know. I have known since I was at least four, that I was different. I knew that my body was wrong, that a mistake had been made somewhere but, without the words, there was no way I could tell anyone. It wasn’t until I saw one of my female cousin’s bodies, (I was about age 5), that I realised what was wrong and something ‘clicked’ in my mind. My body was wrong. According to what was in my head, it should have looked like hers, but didn’t, and there was nothing I could do about it. That sparked off forty years of torment, self-hatred, depression, and multiple suicide attempts. For many trans women, this is a familiar story, and the range of emotions will be familiar.

Another problem we face is the potential destruction of family, friendships and other social circles. We face the loss of any form of support, except that we form amongst ourselves. Some, like myself, have the support of family and friends. Others do not. They face ostracisation and loneliness, with no support or help. This potential loss is the greatest obstacle to transition that many face. This has to stop. How many of my sisters have to die before people realise we are human? How many lives have to be lost before people realise that we are not a threat, just people trying to live their lives?

There is no other reason for this I can think of other than lack of knowledge. People fear what they do not know. Unfortunately, many people just do not want to learn new things and cling to what they think they know, frightened to change, even when what they know has been proven wrong.

Sometimes it’s like banging one’s head against a brick wall. In the words of the almighty Pink Floyd:

Banging your heart, against some mad bugger’s wall

As an aside: Here is a trans emotional timeline:

1) Sad: I feel different.
2) Depressed: No-one around understands how I feel.
3) Happy: There are others like me.
4) Joyful: There is something that can be done about it.
5) Angry: No-one around me wants me to do anything about it ie (4).
6) Depressed (further): Because of (5).
7) Angry: Fuck (5) and (6)
8) Fuck everyone! I’m me.

Usually transition occurs between 7) and 8), although it can occur earlier.

The Undermining of Understanding

Its odd, but when I think about writing a blog entry, I usually have an idea in my mind what I want to write but have to spend ages thinking of a catchy title for it. Usually alliterative, I try and think up a title that’ll give the reader a clue as to what the entry is about. This time, though, its the other way around. The title came to me in a flash after spending some time perusing Twitter and Facebook but the content, which I had in my mind, disappeared. So, I decided to start writing anyway. Maybe it would come back, maybe it wouldn’t and I would end up with a load of drivel that I would spend ages editing to make it look like I’d actually thought about what I’d written. We shall see how it goes…

 


 

Looking back on my school days, I realise that, for the most part, I enjoyed them. Yes, I was incessantly bullied; yes, I would wake up fearing that journey into the school grounds knowing what awaited me and yes, I couldn’t wait to leave and scurry home, hoping that the bigger kids and bullies that lined my path home would decide I wasn’t worth picking on that day, (believe me, those days were rare). Some of you may ask why I bothered going through that evey day, why I didn’t try to stay at home, and bunk off school? The reason is: I wanted to learn. I like learning. There was something about the feeling of sudden comprehension of a subject, the warm glow of the light going on, illuminating the mind. The fear of the unknown being driven from me by knowledge. This was why I braved the tirades of insults and abuse, both physical and psychological, why I scuttled to and from school like a frightened mouse.

As an adult, I look back on those days with some fondness, but I’ve never lost the love of learning, the fun and joy of having knowledge imparted to me by others and now, in turn, giving the gift of that knowledge to others. I’ve often been told that I should have gone into teaching but my life took a different path, and that path is part of the reason why I’m writing this.

Next to experience, knowledge is the best way to understand something or someone. Unfortunately, being trans is something that cannot be experienced except by those who are trans. So that just leaves knowledge, and therein lies the problem.

To be taught, to learn, you must first have an open mind. One willing to accept new ideas and new concepts. To be willing to unlearn incorrect knowledge and replace it with correct knowledge, with the understanding that, in time, this too may possibly be proven incorrect and have to be relearned. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of people in this world who, when it comes to trans women and men, have closed minds. They seem to have a fixed idea of what a trans woman is and seemingly no amount of education to the contrary changes this.

Sometimes this unwillingness to learn stems from an unfortunate fear of the unknown, the unwillingness to change because it causes discomfort, knowing that something one believed was wrong all along. Other times, it goes hand-in-hand with hatred of something or someone different, a form of xenophobia perhaps. Often, its purely because new sources of information are not trusted unless absolute proof is provided.

The worst culprit, though, can be blind faith or extremism. This type of faith can be so strong that it can blind people to the realities of the world around them, giving them such a narrow worldview that leaves no possibility for change. Anyone (or even anything) that challenges this belief is to be considered dangerous and to be destroyed, converted or otherwise changed to fit within that narrow worldview. If none of this can be accomplished then they are deemed to be an enemy and will be dealt with by a higher power. Two such groups, (and probably the most dangerous in the Western World to trans people), are Right Wing Conservative Christians and TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists).

Fear can be conquered and change can happen. Its just getting that initial look, that first little bite of knowledge, proving that there is nothing to fear. Hate, with the right conditions, can be changed, maybe not into love, (I’m not going down that mushy, well trodden road), but into understanding, tolerance and maybe acceptance. It can happen. I’ve seen it happen, twice. As for absolute proof? Well, the medical establishment can provide proof of our existance. While not absolute, with nearly a hundred years of experience and knowledge, it comes pretty bloody close.

So we, trans women and trans men, have plenty to fear, many to mourn, (too many), a lot to be wary of and in some cases, plenty of hiding to do but, we also have a lot to look forward to, a lot to hope for and much to be happy about. Things are changing, abeit slowly, but they are changing for the better.

As for the Right Wing Conservative Christians and the TERFs? Anyone got any ideas?

 

Anyone?

Reclaiming Stonewall – Redux

I suspect that most people in the LGBT community have heard the name Stonewall, and know something about the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and how they led to the Gay Rights movement which has campaigned for equal rights for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people across the world. But, to all intents and purposes, the LGB movement has seemingly ignored Trans people, leaving us to campaign on our own. I suspect, though, that not too many LGB people recognise the horrible irony of this.

I’m going to throw two names at you, dear reader and, be honest with yourself, there’s a good chance that you’ve probably never heard of them or know who they are. They are: Sylvia Rae Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. No? Then read on. (Kudos if you really did know).

These two are trans women who, on the 28th June 1969, became leaders in the Stonewall riots, a turning point in LGBT rights, when a police raid on the Stonewall Tavern, a gay bar, on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, NYC resulted in a series of of spontaneous and violent demonstrations. Rivera and Johnson, both present in the bar, became the first to strike back at the police. Rivera is quoted as saying “I’m not missing a minute of this — it’s the revolution!”

Sylvia Rivera went on to become a founder member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and, with Marsha Johnson, also formed STAR, Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. One of the GLF’s first acts was to organize a march in response to Stonewall and to demand an end to the persecution of homosexuals. The GLF had a broad political platform, denouncing racism and declaring support for various Third World struggles and the Black Panther Party. They took an anti-capitalist stance and attacked the nuclear family and traditional gender roles.

A parallel GLF was set up in the UK in 1970 which eventually led to the creation of  the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard and then to OutRage! and Stonewall.

Sylvia Rivera eventully left the GLF due to a falling out over the marginalisation of trans people by the gay community.This marginalisation was brought to the fore in the 1973 Stonewall Rally when feminist activist Jean O’Leary protested the presence of crossdressers and drag queens, believing they were mocking women. During a speech by O’Leary, in which she claimed that drag queens made fun of women for entertainment value and profit, Sylvia Rivera and Lee Brewster jumped on the stage and shouted “You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!”

This marginalisation continued through the years. Marsha Johnson died in 1992 in mysterious circumstances, her body found floating in the Hudson River. The police ruled it suicide but, with continued pressure from her friends and supporters, eventually reopened the case in 2012. Trans exclusion increased over the years, as attitudes about binary and fluid sexual orientation and gender developed and came increasingly into conflict.

Rivera eventually led a protest march against trans marginalisation in 1994, in response to the exclusion of trans people from the Stonewall 25 march in NYC. Since then, trans exclusion from the LGB community seems to have grown. In the US, the inclusion of transition expenses and surgery costs  was removed from medical insurance cover, in 1980, on the recommendation of the radical feminist Janice Raymond. It also seems that its impossible for US trans people, especially trans women, to perform even the simplest functions, such as using a public toilet, without suffering from some form of harassment. Things in the US, however, are changing slowly. Many states have voted in protections for trans people, equal marriage, and now coverage for transition-related medical expenses (including surgery) from medical insurers.

In the UK, in the last few years, our situation has improved as well. Despite it’s flaws we have the Equalities Act, the introduction of the GRC (Gender Recognition Certificate) giving us the ability to change our birth certificate to reflect the correct gender, and the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, giving us the legal ability to get married, (the annoyance of the spousal veto notwithstanding).  Our ongoing, (and sometimes problematical), ability to obtain treatment on the NHS, with ongoing support, is something none of us take for granted.

Unfortuantely, some of what benefits us as trans people has been gained as a by-product of changes put in place to benefit LGB people, with trans people often left out of the decision-making process. Everything that directly affects us only, as trans people, has been gained as a result of the work and dedication of trans people, by those at the forefront of activism in the UK. People such as Sarah Brown, Roz Kaveney, Natacha Kennedy, Sarah Savage, C. N. Lester, Fox Fisher and many others.  Every inch of legal protection, every scrap of equality, every ounce of recognition has been gained by trans women and trans men.

Yet, we have been treated, as a whole, like the little sister sitting in the corner that no one has time for, marginalised and left to fend for ourselves by the gay rights movement that trans women helped to start, and the organisation that carries its name.

We need to talk. Things need to change.

I think it’s time we reclaimed Stonewall, don’t you?

Reclaiming Stonewall

I suspect that most people in the LGBT community have heard the name Stonewall, and know something about the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and how they led to the Gay Rights movement which has campaigned for equal rights for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people across the world. But, to all intents and purposes, the LGB movement has seemingly ignored Trans people, leaving us to campaign on our own. I suspect, though, that not too many LGB people recognise the horrible irony of this.

I’m going to throw two names at you, dear reader and, be honest with yourself, there’s a good chance that you’ve probably never heard of them or know who they are. They are: Sylvia Rae Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. No? Then read on. (Kudos if you really did know).

These two are trans women who, on the 28th June 1969, became leaders in the Stonewall riots, a turning point in LGBT rights, when a police raid on the Stonewall Tavern, a gay bar, on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, NYC resulted in a series of of spontaneous and violent demonstrations. Rivera and Johnson, both present in the bar, became the first to strike back at the police. Rivera is quoted as saying “I’m not missing a minute of this — it’s the revolution!”

Sylvia Rivera went on to become a founder member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and, with Marsha Johnson, also formed STAR, Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. One of the GLF’s first acts was to organize a march in response to Stonewall and to demand an end to the persecution of homosexuals. The GLF had a broad political platform, denouncing racism and declaring support for various Third World struggles and the Black Panther Party. They took an anti-capitalist stance and attacked the nuclear family and traditional gender roles.

A parallel GLF was set up in the UK in 1970 which eventually led to the creation of  the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard and then to OutRage! and Stonewall.

Sylvia Rivera eventully left the GLF due to a falling out over the marginalisation of trans people by the gay community.This marginalisation was brought to the fore in the 1973 Stonewall Rally when feminist activist Jean O’Leary protested the presence of crossdressers and drag queens, believing they were mocking women. During a speech by O’Leary, in which she claimed that drag queens made fun of women for entertainment value and profit, Sylvia Rivera and Lee Brewster jumped on the stage and shouted “You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!”

This marginalisation continued through the years. Marsha Johnson died in 1992 in mysterious circumstances, her body found floating in the Hudson River. The police ruled it suicide but, with continued pressure from her friends and supporters, eventually reopened the case in 2012. Trans exclusion increased over the years, as attitudes about binary and fluid sexual orientation and gender developed and came increasingly into conflict.

Rivera eventually led a protest march against trans marginalisation in 1994, in response to the exclusion of trans people from the Stonewall 25 march in NYC. Since then, trans exclusion from the LGB community seems to have grown. In the US, the inclusion of transition expenses and surgery costs  was removed from medical insurance cover, in 1980, on the recommendation of the radical feminist Janice Raymond. It also seems that its impossible for US trans people, especially trans women, to perform even the simplest functions, such as using a public toilet, without suffering from some form of harassment.

In the UK, in the last few years, our situation has improved. The inclusion of gender identity in the Equalities Act, the ability to change our birth certificate to reflect the correct gender and our ability to get married. Our ability to obtain treatment on the NHS, with ongoing support is something none of us take for granted.

Everything we, as trans people gain, has been as a result of the work and dedication of trans people. Every inch of legal protection, every scrap of equality, every ounce of recognition has been gained by trans women and trans men.

Yet, we have been treated, as a whole, like the little sister that no one has time for, marginalised and left to fend for ourselves by the gay rights movement that trans women helped to start.

I think it’s time we reclaimed Stonewall, don’t you?

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.