The Big Stonewall Meeting

My internet exploded today when news broke of The Big Stonewall Meeting With Trans People™ happening later this week. For those of you who been living in a tent on the island of Sark for the last few months, I’ll give a quick recap: The UK’s biggest LGB organisation is called Stonewall, they have a history of not supporting gender variant people, giving awards to transphobic journalists and more. Well, they’ve got a new Chief Executive, Ruth Hunt, and she is keen to make some changes with how the charity interacts with trans people, starting with meeting some actual trans people. I think this sounds like a great place to start.

 

I’ve known about this meeting for a while after I wrote to Ms. Hunt earlier this year, we set up a chat on the phone and I wrote about here. A couple of days ago I was sent an email with details of the meeting and list of people going and it was good to see almost fifty names of gender variant activists from all over the country, all of whom I respect and some I have had the pleasure to meet over the last few years. There is a broad mix of gender variant people who have all dedicated a good deal of their time, energy and skills to supporting the wider trans* communities, mostly unpaid, I must add. Stonewall have even paid for the travel and accommodation of those who can’t afford it. I don’t know how they decided who would be invited or not but from a quick look there seems to be a good representation of all minorities, there are some who have disabilities, people of colour, both binary and non binary, in fact the only cis people there will be three or four Stonewall employees. Here’s a list of them.

 

So, back to the exploding internet shenanigans. Predictively, there is chaos, this is the first time some have even heard of such a meeting and given the opportunity, they would have liked have had some input. I understand those reasons but am pretty sure Stonewall don’t intend for this to be the last consultation with gender variant people and even their resources are limited and hosting a meeting for fifty people doesn’t come cheap. Please, give it time and your voice will be heard, nothing is not going to change over night, this will hopefully be the first step of many and all options remain open.

 

Gender variant people in this country are beaten down from so many angles right now, the NHS gender service is in crisis, hate crime and harassment is rampant, the suicide, self harm and general mental health failings are taking their toll on all of our lives. We need all the help we can get and it seems that the biggest thing that helped lesbian and gay acceptance in the nineties was that straight allies started taking notice and standing up against homophobia. Stonewall wants to talk to us, nothing more, nothing less.

 

Let’s talk…

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.