My country too

Yesterday the Scottish Government published the initial results of its consultation on gender recognition reform. The public, including women’s groups dealing with the most vulnerable women in society, was overwhelmingly in favour of making life a little bit easier and a little more dignified for trans and non-binary people. It’s an interesting contrast to England, where the ongoing “debate” is dominated by misinformation, outright lies and scaremongering.

Today one of my friends, the filmmaker Kate Adair, shared this photograph of a public awareness campaign by One Scotland.

One Scotland is an initiative by the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to stamp out hateful abuse. Here’s another one, this time from the website.

One Scotland isn’t just about trans folks. It’s about hate crime in general. The campaign serves two important purposes. It urges the victims of abuse to report it, and it hammers home the message that such abuse has no place in our country.

It also sends LGBTQ people in Scotland a powerful message: we’re on your side.

Every day’s a school day

I got a taxi home last night. I think it’s safe to assume that there aren’t many openly trans people getting taxis from that Glasgow suburb: when the driver clocked that my appearance was rather different from my voice he had a lot of questions, all of them deeply personal and inappropriate.

I could have been offended, but I thought it was really funny.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely understand people who don’t see why it’s up to them to educate the wider world, and who think it’s exceptionally rude to ask a stranger what’s in their pants and whether they’re planning to change that – because of course, it is exceptionally rude. But I also think that if somebody’s intent is genuine, if they’re asking because they want to understand, then it’s okay to have a conversation.

I was talking about this with a friend shortly afterwards, and she said that she didn’t think it was fair: people who aren’t LGBT don’t have to endure deeply personal questioning from LGBT people when they’re out and about. And I agree with her. In an ideal world people wouldn’t need to ask those kinds of questions, because trans people wouldn’t be “other”.

Unfortunately, though, it isn’t an ideal world. There’s no shortage of bad actors peddling bad information about people like me. So which is better: telling the driver it’s none of his damned business and leaving him with a negative impression of trans people, or being open and funny and  busting a few myths?

There are days I don’t feel like that, days where just being noticed is too much. But on other days I’d rather have the conversation, because in a very small way I think it helps.

I’ve said before that most people probably don’t know any openly trans men or women: the best guesstimate is that we’re around 1% of the population, and an awful lot of us are in the closet. That means the information most people have about trans folk is about us but not from us, and as a result that information is often wrong. That means you can see these conversations not as negatives, but positives: they’re an opportunity to correct misinformation, to be seen rather than read about.

For some of us, every day is a school day. Most days, I think that’s okay.

Cake day

There’s a thing some trans people do on social media to mark “Cake Day”, the anniversary of them starting transition: it’s usually (but not always) the anniversary of them starting HRT. It’s my first Cake Day today.

Cake Day is often celebrated by posting before and after photos, usually showing a really miserable person in the before and a really cute and happy person in the after. Unfortunately for me I can’t do that because (a) I’m much older than most of the people who post pics and (b) I look exactly the same except fatter. So here’s my version.

Messing around aside, Cake Day photos can be really valuable when you’re still in the closet. I wrote about them a while back:

I’d spent endless hours looking at trans women’s HRT transition timelines, the photographic evidence of the cumulative effects of hormone treatment and improving make-up skills. I actively searched for timelines of middle-aged MTF trans women, trying to see what was the result of HRT and what was just better lighting, good makeup and a cute smile.

Looking at such images wasn’t new, nor was the strong yearning I felt to be one of the people in the pictures. I’ve had those things since I’ve had internet access. But something was different now. I no longer saw the photos as pictures of transformations that, for me, would be impossible and unattainable.

I started to see them as maps of the possible.

What struck me wasn’t the physical transformation; it was the difference in the way they looked at the camera, the smiles reaching their eyes. Even relatively minor physical transformations looked spectacular because of the difference in the way people held themselves and looked at the camera.

Each timeline was the same story: unhappy people finally becoming happy in their own skin. I wanted that too.

I might not look like Shirley Manson, and I never will. But a year on, I’m becoming happy in my own skin.

Hate-clicks as a business model

One of the more depressing things about the internet is the way that some publications have embraced hate clicks. Hate clicks are when you publish something terrible and then lots of people share it, not because they agree with it but because they’re shocked by how awful it is. The statistics show that lots of people read it, so the publication commissions more of it and the world gets a little bit worse.

The latest example of that comes once again from Glasgow’s Herald newspaper, which seems increasingly determined to sacrifice its reputation for the sake of a bit of online outrage. Its columnist Brian Beacom is a kind of Tesco Value Richard Littlejohn, writing really tired columns with exactly the kinds of views you’d expect from a straight, white, middle-aged pub bore. Beacom doesn’t have a high opinion of black music, or trans people, or women. And this week’s column is particularly bad.

This is the opening sentence.

TIME to give Zoe Ball a little kicking.

See what he did there? A ball is something you kick. So it’s okay to make a joke about violence against women.

I’m genuinely amazed that made it into print. How many people saw that and thought “yeah, suggesting a woman needs a kicking is absolutely fine”?

Beacom is outraged – he says it’s “anger following on from frustration” – because while “Ball isn’t a bad presenter” she has breasts, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to present the Radio 2 breakfast show. The only way for men to present prestigious radio programmes is for them to grow breasts too.

If you’re a man hoping for radio’s most prestigious slot, the only chance is to transgender and hope the oestrogen pills kick in before Chris Evans sets off to become a reborn Virgin.

It’s a sad day when a professional writer can’t even make his lazy slurs grammatically correct. Transgender is an adjective, not a verb.

Beacom’s argument is that the BBC is “pushing women beyond the level of their talent” and should stick with – surprise! – middle-aged straight white men like him. The Radio 2 breakfast show has always been presented by men, and should continue to be presented by men because it has always been presented by men. QED.

Whether he means it or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it got published, woman-kicking sentiment included, and a bunch of straight white guys in the comments saw it as validation. It even made it to TV, although many of the women journalists approached to appear with him refused on the grounds that “old man has bigoted views” is hardly newsworthy and they had proper journalism to be getting on with.

It’s so, so lazy. Anybody can do it, and most people could do a better job of it than Beacom. The irony here is that he’s claiming the BBC is not a meritocracy from the perspective of a white, middle-aged man who has a newspaper column despite not being any good at writing newspaper columns.

The Herald has clearly pushed him beyond the level of his talent.

Identity and community

I was reading a lot of blogs over the weekend, and one comment in particular really stood out for me:

We don’t choose to be LGBTQ, but we choose whether to be part of the LGBTQ community.

I think that’s very true. I didn’t choose to be trans, but I can choose whether to see myself as part of a wider community of people.

That doesn’t mean uncritical support of everybody else, or even being nice to people I don’t like, or making placards and marching around the place (although all of those things can of course be really positive).

It means understanding that you’re part of something bigger, that while your personal experiences and circumstances are different from other people’s you have common struggles and often, common enemies.

Not everybody believes that, or believes it’s important enough to overcome their own self-interest. Wherever there’s a minority you’ll find a minority in that minority that doesn’t want to be associated with the wider group. In some cases they’ll even act in ways that are damaging to the wider group.

For example, among gay men there’s a schism between “masc” – hyper-masculine – gay men and  their less macho peers. Some lesbian women have a real problem with bisexual women. And in trans circles there’s the long-running schism between what some call the TTT (Trannier Than Thou) brigade and trans people who haven’t had any medical treatment. In some cases TTT people actively campaign against rights for trans people in much the same way turkeys vote for Christmas.

These schisms are all different, but they all have the same thing in common. Members of a group are demanding to be considered separately from other members of the same group.

Sometimes it’s naked careerism: there’s money to be made by throwing your peers under the bus, especially in right-wing publications. Sometimes it’s neediness, the same thing that sometimes encourages the bullied to suck up to bullies in the hope that they might be spared and which lends legitimacy to bigots. If you want to be the equivalent of the only black person in UKIP, there’s always a vacancy.

But a big part of it, I’m sure, is self hatred and internalised phobia. I’ve experienced it myself. “I don’t want people to think I’m like THOSE people.”

And of course there’s self-interest too. If you’re in a group that’s under attack, there’s a concern that THOSE people are going to attract unwanted attention and that you’ll be caught up in it.

I think there are two kinds of responses to that. The first is to say “fuck those people”, to run for the lifeboats while pushing women and children out of the way.

You can see it in the famous attitude expressed by some affluent, conservative gay men who argue that “the battle for equality has been won”: they have equal marriage. The wholesale dismantling of LGBT people’s rights is of no concern to them, because it does not affect them. You can see it in op-eds by superannuated post-op transsexuals who transitioned a hundred years ago and who don’t appreciate young trans people demanding change. You see it in gay politicians who share sob stories about their teenage mental health traumas while leading a party that’s done terrible damage to mental health services.

They’re all right, Jack. Fuck you.

The other response is to say: I’m one of those people.

I’m one of those people.

I joked the other day that I’m a “real” trans person now: I have a medical diagnosis, and that means to some of the TTT brigade I’m valid in a way I wasn’t the day before I had the piece of paper with “transsexualism” written on it (although to some that still isn’t enough: if you haven’t had surgery, you’re faking it). It’s official. I’m not one of THOSE people any more.

But in the wider world, I’m still one of those people.

No matter how many fawning Facebook friends you have or how impressive your Twitter impressions or how many column inches you scrapbook, if you’re LGBT then it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, lesbian or bi, non-op, post-op or non-conforming. To many, you are one of those people, and you’ll be treated like those people, and demonised like those people, and discriminated against like those people, and hated like those people.

Every one of us is one of THOSE people to somebody.

Real, real, real

I got a letter from the NHS yesterday. I’ve been waiting for it for a long time.

I’ve been waiting a long time because while it was dictated on the 9th of July, it wasn’t typed until the 2nd of August and didn’t get here until the 14th of September. It had been sent by mistake to my previous GP (NHS systems are not joined up, it turns out: just because my GP has the right details doesn’t mean other bits of the NHS do), and as my previous GP is an arse he didn’t let the sender know that I’m not his patient any more.

Trans people are used to waiting, though. The letter is from the Sandyford gender identity service, to which I self-referred in October 2016. It’s taken 23 months to get a written diagnosis.

This is it.

The codes are from the World Health Organisation, and they’re out of date: as of June 2018, being trans is no longer considered to be a mental disorder and has been removed from the International Classification of Diseases, as homosexuality was in the 1970s. It takes a while for the medical establishment to catch up, though, so at the moment trans stuff still comes under the umbrella of mental health.

So this is a bit of a double-edged sword, because on the one hand it’s confirmation that I’m not making this shit up – but on the other it gives me a pathology, a label of ‘disorder’ for something that the medical and psychiatric consensus agrees is not a disorder. There is nothing wrong with me, because being trans is just part of the infinite variety of human brains and bodies.

But that’s a rant for another day. What difference does having a diagnosis actually make?

The short answer is “not much”. It means the end of having to go to and pay for a private GP for my supervised hormone treatment, and it means all my healthcare is now in the hands of my (great!) local GP surgery. Although the savings I’ll make from not paying for prescriptions are dwarfed by the costs of electrolysis now my NHS funding has run out: I’m saving about £50 a month and paying out around £150 a week.

The bigger picture? It makes no difference whatsoever. Being a “real” trans woman, ie someone who’s gone through the various gatekeepers, doesn’t impress the trannier-than-thou brigade for whom the only “real” trans people are the ones who’ve had bottom surgery. And it doesn’t make me any more acceptable to the bigots who lie and say they have no issues with “real” trans people.

Mainly, though, it’s no big deal because it’s already in the rear view mirror. I know I’m trans. This is just the admin finally catching up.

“Why now, after all this time?”

I’m a big fan of the writer Jenny Boylan, and about a month back I posted a link to a Twitter thread where she talked about being a late transitioning trans woman. She’s now turned it into a column for the New York Times.

People often ask late transitioners, why now, after all this time? What kind of woman do you think you can be, after missing your girlhood and your adolescence? But those aren’t the questions one should ask.

The question is, how did you manage to go so long? What enabled you to keep carrying your burden in secret, walking around with a shard of glass in your foot, for all those years?

This story may be less about what it is like to come out as trans than it is about finding the courage to do a difficult thing, even if you are no longer young, even if you do not know how. Trans people are surely not the only ones who wonder how to close the gap between the people they feel they have to pretend to be and their authentic selves.

The smallest of acts

A tale of two tweets. The first, a news story tweeted by Glasgow Live:

A Glasgow bridge has been decked in brightly coloured post-it notes with messages which aim to help bring people back from the brink of suicide.

The notes, which appeared this morning (Monday), have been posted on the Squinty Bridge and on railings alongside the River Clyde between Glasgow Central.

Handwritten messages read: “You matter”, “Just coz you’re struggling, doesn’t mean you’re failing”, “You are strong” and “Do not give up. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”

The second, a tweet by US trans support group CATS:

Cut it out

I’ve written once or twice that the world is very different when you walk in women’s shoes: if you’re born and socialised as male you inhabit a completely different planet to women. It’s something many of my women friends find blackly funny when I’m outraged by an experience they have every day.

There was a good example of that last night in my local, where as I often do I was sitting at the bar looking at things on my phone. From out of nowhere a pissed bloke had his arms around me and his head against mine, demanding I put down my phone so “we can have a chat”. I politely and then less politely told him to get his hands off me, which he did grudgingly. He didn’t actually do the fucking off I’d requested until one of my friends came over.

He wasn’t a no-neck football fan or a sleazy middle-aged lech in a shiny suit. Just your run of the mill sensitive indie guy who no doubt owns a “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt. He’s got a child, a girl. I know this because I overheard his friend later, apologising to the bar staff for his drunken behaviour. “I’ve been trying to get him into a taxi for five hours. It’s his daughter’s first birthday tomorrow.”

It’s not something I’ve experienced before, because for pretty obvious reasons I don’t tend to be the target of that kind of behaviour. But my women friends deal with it all the time. The same friend who came over last night told me of her own experience the night before: a complete stranger had grabbed her in a bear hug and kissed her on the cheek.

It’s just part of the background noise for women, the entitlement of men who don’t just refuse to take “no” for an answer but don’t ask in the first place. And the more likely a man is to get away with it, the worse the behaviour can be. My great love, live music, has a real problem of men groping women at shows. It’s led to campaigns such as Safe Gigs For Women. And sometimes it’s even worse than that. Sweden has just held a “cis man-free” festival for women, trans women and non-binary people after multiple sexual assaults at a previous music festival.

#NotAllMen, I know. But too many.

Think of the children

This is Maddie. She’s 12.

She’s “the transgender”, “the thing”, the “lil half baked maggot” that parents of other kids think should be sorted out with “a good sharp knife”.

Maddie’s story went viral. I thought it was upsetting enough, but then I watched the Vice News video report. Seeing a wee girl pretending to be braver than she feels made the whole thing even more heartbreaking.

Please watch it. One of the reasons anti-trans sentiment still spreads is because many of us don’t know any trans people. It’s easy to mistrust and even hate people you don’t know, people you’re told are different, and some of the worst people exploit that. But it’s a lot harder to hate when you see someone who’s just like your own kids (Maddie is only slightly older than my daughter. The thought of anybody, let alone parents, ganging up on her…), because of course trans people are just people.

It’s not a long film, but there are plenty of moments to break your heart, to make you angry and sad. The police not so subtly implying that the filmmakers should get out of town or expect violence from the locals. The school board discussing everything but the case. The town mayor, who’s gay, having obvious difficulty defending bigotry. But the moment that really jumped out for me was an almost throwaway remark: when Maddie came to town, nobody knew she was trans until a teacher pulled the old records and told others.

Teachers are supposed to be the protectors of our children.

This particular case went viral, and strangers’ fundraising has enabled Maddie’s family to move to somewhere less backward. But there have been and will be many more Maddies whose stories you won’t hear, and for whom nobody will crowdfund anything.