Trans Activism, Cerys Matthews and me

I’ve noticed that there are two ways to approach trans activism, every time a trans story hits the headlines and generates discussion across the community there is always one section who are shouty, issuing rallying cries for direct action, boycotts and more. I’ve written passionate blogs in the same vein, hell, I’ve even taken part in protests and called for people to be fired from their jobs. I do this because it works.

The second theory of trans activism is often talked about on social media and follows the idea that all trans people are activists in a sense, these people argue that the most effective way of gaining acceptance and educating the cis masses is by just living your life with quiet dignity, getting on with it by interacting with the people they meet in their lives, winning them over one person at a time. Again, this works too as some of the most surprising acceptance stories in my personal life have come from people I meet in everyday life.

The problem I have though, is that both sides always seem to be absolutely certain that their particular brands of gaining acceptance, of activism, are completely right. Conformation and commitment bias run rife and sometimes there is friction between the two camps.

Recently someone brought my attention to an issue about a trans woman being talked about on the radio who had transitioned more than 40 years ago and is a successful musician. The presenter, Cerys Matthews used the wrong pronouns to describe this woman and when I listened back to the show she seemed confused in general about how to address her. A discussion followed about how to respond to this with one side literally braying for blood, saying that enough was enough, she should be sacked and it’s time to start fighting fire with fire. Maybe it was all those years of walking to school in the morning, blissfully listening to Catatonia but this time I couldn’t bring myself to go all out on the attack over this.

I decided to send Cerys a tweet, no shouty shouty, just a calm message and see where that took me. I didn’t really expect a reply, I just like to speak my mind at randoms on Twitter, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

To my surprise, she answered me and we swapped a few tweets and Direct Messages…

And it concluded with:

I think we can call that a success.

As usual when two opposing ideas clash, neither of these theories are one hundred percent right or wrong. I had a very strict rules and regulation based upbringing and have always delighted in the idea that there is always an exception to the rule. Hard and fast ideologies are weak to the fact that every situation is different and deserves to be judged accordingly and we as a community need to realise that in general, people just aren’t educated enough about trans people. They don’t have the vocabulary to describe transgender issues like we do, remember that we’re are all human, we make mistakes occasionally.

What makes a person is how they respond to their mistakes and kudos to Cerys Matthews for admitting it, apologising and promising to learn from it. If the shouty shouty crowd had been listened to, there is a chance that the outcome would have been completely different.

Fundraiser for Rise video with Julie Burchill

 

I’ve never really talked about it much but two years ago, when my life was first splashed across national television, I was homeless for a while and eventually found a place in a women’s’ refuge. Much like when I first arrived off the boat in the UK, I had landed in Brighton with all my worldly possessions in my car, and it was my new friend Fox who suggested that I call Rise. Little did I know it but this charity had a history of being very inclusive of trans people, they had a dedicated LGBT officer and had policies in place that made sure that gender variant people’s identities were respected. I was assigned a key worker who for the first time ever, asked me how I identify and how I wanted to be addressed. It was a complete breath of fresh air.

My whole life was in complete chaos during those first few months, I couldn’t tell anyone where I lived for fear of putting the other women in danger by exposing exactly where the refuge was, the immense pressure I felt from the TV thing, the breakup of a relationship and being homeless yet again took it’s toll on me. I met some great people and it gave me the space to think and to plan a way to put my life back together so in a roundabout way, I’m glad things worked out how they did, if it wasn’t for Rise, my life wouldn’t be what it is, my confidence wouldn’t be where it is now and I’d probably be living in a tent on the Outer Hebrides or something.

Fast forward two years and the Trans Alliance, one of the organisations I volunteer with, heard that notorious transphobe Julie Burchill would be organising a fundraiser for Rise in Brighton called End Of. The reactions from the local trans and feminist community varied from quite strong ‘burn the witch’ the responses to the more moderate and although last year I had helped organise one of the wave of direct action protests against her sickening rant in the Observer, I felt that the bigger picture needed to be taken into account on this occasion. The Trans Alliance reached out to Rise and we talked about how best to manage the situation and they asked me if I would like to say a few words on the night to highlight how the charity supports women, regardless of whether they were trans or cisgender.

Rise is a charity which can only offer such a wide range of support services because of the fundraising efforts of women like Julie Burchill. Rise doesn’t discriminate who they help so of the tens of thousands raised last night, trans women will be among those who are helped to recover from abusive relationships. Wonderfully Ironic, isn’t it?

When I was deciding what to say for my time on stage in front of hundreds and hundreds of people I was very aware that I was walking a tightrope, on one hand I had to be respectful of the real needs of Rise as a charity, and on the other, I couldn’t miss up an opportunity to call out a transphobe on her bullshit. I was super nervous waiting to go on stage, which wasn’t helped when Burchill and my eyes met over a crowded corridor, she must have known that I helped organise those protests, I mean who doesn’t Google themselves from time to time, right?

In the end, I kept my protest low key, focussed on the positive that had came from my interactions with Rise but still made the point I had come to make. The most surprising thing that came fro the evening though, was bumping into a woman I had met while in refuge, her story was more harrowing than anyone can imagine and it made my week to see her happy, strong and getting on with her life. positivity rocks.

If Julie Burchill happens to read this, let me say this to you; we obviously have some things in common, the Sex Pistols and a desire to combat domestic violence for a start, is it time to drop the transphobic rhetoric? Let’s talk and see if we can find some more common ground.

You’re a filthy tranny!

A young woman who’s gender identity is different to the one that was assigned to her at birth, describes herself to her friends as “a tranny” and is in bed late at night with her husband of five years, they have just finished having sex and are indulging in some pillow talk.

 

“You’re a filthy tranny!” He says softly, “that was amazing! I love you so much”

 

Contrast that with another young woman who’s gender identity is different to the one that she was assigned at birth but describes herself to her friends as “a woman with trans history” is alone and walking home from work late at night, she is very self conscious about her looks and doesn’t think she passes very well. A group of drunk men stumble out of a pub in front of her so she lowers her head and quickens her step, hoping they won’t look at her too closely.

 

“You’re a filthy tranny!” A man shouts.

 

I’ve always loved language, I can speak and understand some of the English, French and Spanish languages and it’s always been fascinating to me how very subtle changes in the way a word is spelt, the grammar used and the setting the word is used in can change it’s meaning entirely.

 

If someone wants a label with which to describe themselves, who am I to tell them that they’re wrong? Who am I to tell them that their choice of identity is not my idea of what is ‘the done thing?’ This kind of identity policing is exactly what the cis world is guilty of and a trans person would quite rightly call it out so why does it happen so often in the trans world?

 

The way that humans use words and language evolves over time, it happens organically and banning certain words never achieves anything, it just makes something taboo and  likely to be used more often than not as a slur.

 

Replace the trans women in my earlier story with cis women (Female at birth) and replace “tranny” with “bitch.” The story is the same and the meanings behind what is said are the same, why should the use of the word tranny be any different from bitch? Some women choose never to use either word and some choose to use both, why the judgement? Both can be used to mean both positive and negative things and everyone has a right to use their words however they wish.

 

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