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…

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.

F*ck your gender binary

The last few days I’ve read some disgusting views, some written by cis people, some by trans women about that ‘transsexual murderer sleeping with women in prison’ story. (I’m not linking to the Daily Fail, find it yourself.) The ‘popular’ opinion is that she can’t be transgender because she likes to have sex with women, like, actually puts her penis in a vagina! Oh my fucking god, what horror, a trans person who uses their genitals to feel pleasure! If these idiots are to be believed, she can’t be a ‘true’ transsexual if she wants to have a sex life that doesn’t involve pretending that her arsehole is a pussy and ignoring her primary sexual organ!

Bullshit. Two points here, first of all, who the fuck is anyone to enforce their own idea of a gender binary on someone else? What right has one trans woman got to say who is a ‘true’ transsexual and who isn’t? It pisses me the fuck off when people moan that society won’t accept trans people for who they are when they themselves won’t accept other trans people without placing arbitrary rules upon them, saying they have to feel this, do that and say whatever before they are allowed to define their identity by some bullshit label? Since when does having a penis or a vagina make a person a man or a woman? I thought society was starting to move away from these antiquated definitions?

Second point, what right does anyone have to interfere with a strangers sex life? Perhaps the lady in prison has chosen to make do with what she has, make the most of a shitty situation regarding her genitals? Perhaps she wants gender conformation surgery in the future but for the moment, she’s working with what she’s got? What if she has a phobia of having a major operation or a medical condition which means she can’t have surgery?

She is an adult, the people she allegedly slept with are adults, I’m 100% sure that cis lesbians and gays have sex whilst in prison, why the fuck does it matter to you who she does or does not sleep with and how she does it? I could tell you things about my sex life that would make your grandmother spin in her grave and sing Waltzing Matilda but I don’t, it’s my private business what I do with my body, and the same applies for any other human on this planet.

Perhaps, just maybe, what you’ve read in the shit face transphobic Daily Fucking Mail is all a lie and you’ve fallen for their thinly veiled hate speech, stirring up the right wing ‘trans people are scum’ witch hunt crowds? It’s her business who she sleeps with and how she does it, stop judging people for having a sex life.

 

*I originally wrote this a few weeks ago on BookFace but am republishing it here because I’m just testing site functionality*

 

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