“I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand”

Dig, if you will, the picture. It’s 1987. You’re fifteen, trans — although you don’t know that’s what it’s called yet — and you live in Scotland, home of anodyne pop singers such as Sheena Easton.

You turn on the TV, and there’s bona fide musical genius Prince. And there’s… Sheena Easton?

But it’s Sheena Easton as you’ve never seen her before. Her face was, as Prince put it, jammin’. Her body was, as he also put it, heck a-slammin’. Ever coy, Prince suggested they should get together for some, ahem, rammin’.

 

I’m scared to rewatch it in case time hasn’t been kind, but I remember it as one of the most astonishingly sexual pop videos to make it onto prime time TV. It sounded astonishingly sexual too, the grinding, stabbing synths and distorted guitar blending in a way I can’t describe without sounding like a pretentious arse.

Not only that, but there was role reversal too. Prince was going through his androgynous Camille phase, and in U Got The Look it was clear that he was (at least role-playing as) submissive with Easton very much in charge. And when Easton hit the ecstatic high note of “bay-behhhhhhhh!”…

Oh. My. God.

Feminine man with gorgeous woman? The bit of my brain responsible for identity and sexuality must have looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise when under alien attack.

I don’t know if Prince was trans, although he famously sang “I’m not a woman / I’m not a man / I am something that you’ll never understand” and wrote the astonishingly beautiful “If I was your girlfriend” — a song where he fantasises not about getting close to her for some “rammin’”,  but washing her hair and just hanging out. Obviously it’s Prince so he does end up naked by the end, but it doesn’t come across as predatory or macho. It’s sexy as hell.

Trans or not, Prince was an extraordinarily feminine man. As his own song put it, he was a sexy MF — and he was a sexy MF in a period where that was very weird indeed.

Writing in Fusion magazine, director Dodai Stewart writes⁠1:

The year is 1980. Many states still have sodomy laws. The radio is playing feel-good ear candy like Captain and Tennille and KC and the Sunshine Band. TV hits include the sunny, toothy blond shows Three’s Company and Happy Days. There’s no real word for “gender non-conforming.” But here’s what you see: A man. Clearly a man. Hairy, mostly naked body, cock bulging beneath a satiny bikini bottom. But those eyes. Rimmed in black, like a fantasy belly dancer. The full, pouty lips of a pin-up girl. Long hair. A tiny, svelte thing. Ethnically ambiguous, radiating lust. What is this? A man. Clearly a man. No. Not just a man. A Prince.

[On MTV] A man. Clearly a man. A black man. Slight of stature, narrow of hip. Rising to global popularity in the 1980s, at the same time as another major American export: Hip-hop. A genre in which many black male artists releasing music on shelves alongside Prince’s albums—Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Ice Cube—projected an urban toughness. Leather jackets thick as armor, heavy gold chains, bold aggression. But Prince was a flirtatious, peacock pastiche made of diamonds and pearls, a dandy in paisley and lace. Some rappers’ personas aligned with the age-old oversexed, “primitive,” mandingo stereotype invented by white slaveowners. Prince defied stereotypes, period.

…Black men don’t wear makeup. Straight black men don’t wear makeup. And women aren’t attracted to a straight black man in makeup. But he did. They were.

Oh, Prince. You sexy motherfucker.

 

Some of Prince’s femininity was for shock value — the trenchcoat, stockings and heels of his early career were primarily about pissing off the prudes, something Prince took great delight in doing: his “Darling Nikki”, in which he described the eponymous Nikki as a “sex fiend… in a hotel lobby, masturbating with a magazine”, prompted the wife of a US Senator to create the Parents Music Resource Center, whose “Parental Advisory” stickers would appear on records until people no longer made records; more importantly, it’s a hilarious, cheeky, sexy and wonderful piece of perfect pop music — and his heels were handy for a man who was famously petite.

 

Nevertheless, Prince blurred gender roles, preached sexual freedom (let’s skip over the opposition to gay marriage after he became a Jehovah’s Witness) and nurtured the careers of many extraordinarily talented women. All that and writing Nothing Compares 2 U for Sinead O’Connor.

I never saw him live — bastard touts robbed me of that opportunity when he played Glasgow in 2014 — and regret that deeply.

When he died aged just 57, it felt like the universe had lost a colour.

Guys? Be more like Prince.

1 https://splinternews.com/on-prince-blackness-and-sexuality-1793856349

A quick word about words

Gendered language is weird sometimes. The comedian Frankie Boyle does a hilarious and uncharacteristically safe routine about the early French deciding which gender various inanimate objects were, so for example a lemon was clearly male⁠1 because a lemon is a little yellow man.  And some language is unnecessarily gendered, such as “firemen” when “firefighters” would work just as well.

Sometimes requests for inclusive language are hailed as examples of “political correctness gone mad”, but I can’t see what’s wrong with wanting language to be inclusive rather than exclusive. If the gender of the person isn’t relevant, why do we need to know it?

 

Airline stewards and stewardesses, police men and women, actors and actresses, hunters and huntresses, waiters and waitresses, chairmen and chairwomen, comedians and comediennes… it’s the same job whether they’re male or female. The configuration of their genitals has no impact on how they help passengers, fight crime, pretend to be other people, track creatures, serve coffee, run meetings or tell jokes⁠2.

Imagine if every time we mentioned a person we had to add “…who is a man”, “…who is a woman” or “…who is trans” immediately afterwards. We’d quickly get sick of it: the ugliness of it, the unnecessariness of it. We’d stop doing it fairly quickly. We should do the same with gendered words when the gender is completely irrelevant.

Titles are pretty straightforward for people who aren’t trans. If you’re a man, you’re a Mr. If you’re a woman, you’re generally expected to indicate whether you’re the property of a man or sexually available at this point, because the world is often stupid and terrible. But it’s even more stupid for some trans people.

Some trans people are fine with Mr or Ms, or even Miss and Mrs. But others aren’t, and would like to use a title that’s gender neutral. So for example you might be Mr Don or Ms George, but I might not be either.

We have a word for that: Mx, pronounced “mix”.

 

No, not that little Mx.

Some people have a real problem with Mx and related titles.

When HSBC announced that it would let its trans customers choose from ten titles⁠3 on their bank statements, cards and apps, people were appalled. Commenting on the story in a newspaper I don’t need to name, the why oh why brigade were out in force.

Here’s Mr Simmons, who clearly thinks grammar is his mum’s mum:

There’s two genders, male and female, that is it so none of this nonsense just Mr, Mrs, Miss or Master.

Cookie Cat, who is a cat:

I’ve got a title for the dweebs who come up with this nonsense….Prat.

Dolly Duck, who is a duck:

the world has now totally gone mad, who needs a title whats wrong with just stating your name this is absolute nonsense

Doing It Tuff, who is of course the son of Dave and Irene Tuff:

OMG. I would choose all of them just to hear some idiot try and get their tongue round it. HSBC should have more important things to worry about.

Mariama Deep, who seems to think the new titles are compulsory for everyone and doesn’t bank there anyway:

I want to be called by title which is, Mrs. If I had an account with this bank, I would leave.

Carine 88, daughter of Olivia and Brian 88:

oh please , ffs

(Incidentally, 88 is often used in the user names of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in a kind of secret handshake kind of way: it’s shorthand for Heil Hitler. I suspect here it’s a year of birth, but that’s not going to stop me posting my go-to GIF:)

I use this a lot.

Lakesider, who identifies as something that is next to a lake:

As a shareholder in HSBC, I shall be letting them know that I object to this shocking waste of money pandering to the whims of a tiny number of PC obsessed fools.

And last but not least, Julian And Sandy, who thinks he is two people.

World’s gone mad.

Is the the world that’s mad, Julian and Sandy, or is you? Maybe it’s one of you, or maybe it’s the other one. Maybe it’s both!

It’s not just HSBC either. The Royal Opera House⁠4 uses Mx too, as well as many other silly, probably made-up titles such as:

Advocate, Ambassador, Baron, Baroness, Brigadier, Canon, Chaplain, Chancellor, Chief, Col, Comdr, Commodore, Councillor, Count…

 

…Countess, Dame, Dr, Duke of, Earl, Earl of, Father, General, Group Captain, H R H The Duchess of, H R H The Duke of, H R H The Princess, HE Mr, HE Senora, HE The French Ambassador M, His Highness, His Hon, His Hon Judge, Hon, Hon Ambassador, Hon Dr, Hon Lady, Hon Mrs, HRH, HRH Sultan Shah…

We’re not even at M yet, where the trans people who think they’re too good for Mr and Mrs like to hang out, possibly in bathrooms.

HRH The, HRH The Prince, HRH The Princess, HSH Princess, HSH The Prince, Judge, King, Lady, Lord, Lord and Lady, Lord Justice, Lt Cdr, Lt Col, Madam, Madame, Maj, Maj Gen, Major, Marchesa, Marchese, Marchioness…

Am I labouring the point like Stewart Lee does, taking the joke so far it stops being funny but might become funny again if I stick with it?

 

…Marchioness of, Marquess, Marquess of, Marquis, Marquise, Master, Mr and Mrs, Mr and The Hon Mrs, President, Prince…

 

Of course, he preferred to use a symbol.

…Princess, Princessin, Prof, Prof  Emeritus, Prof Dame, Professor, Queen…

But strangely not “Flash! Ah-ahhh!

Is it my imagination, or is this Scots comedian Gary Little's doppelganger?

…Rabbi, Representative, Rev Canon, Rev Dr, Rev Mgr, Rev Preb, Reverend, Reverend Father, Right Rev, Rt Hon, Rt Hon Baroness, Rt Hon Lord, Rt Hon Sir, Rt Hon The Earl, Rt Hon Viscount, Senator, Sir, Sister, Sultan, The Baroness, The Countess, The Countess of, The Dowager Marchioness of…

That one sounds like someone Sherlock Holmes would visit.

…The Duchess, The Duchess of, The Duke of, The Earl of, The Hon, The Hon Mr, The Hon Mrs, The Hon Ms, The Hon Sir, The Lady, The Lord, The Marchioness of, The Princess, The Reverend, The Rt Hon, The Rt Hon Lord, The Rt Hon Sir, The Rt Hon The Lord, The Rt Hon the Viscount…

We’re in the home stretch now. Be strong!

…The Rt Hon Viscount, The Venerable, The Very Rev Dr, Very Reverend, Viscondessa, Viscount, Viscount and Viscountess, Viscountess, W Baron, W/Cdr.

The Aristocrats!

 

1 Of course I looked it up. He’s right. It is.

2 Women aren’t underrepresented in comedy because “women aren’t funny”. It’s because comedy is still quite sexist, with women being told they can’t be added to the bill because the venue already has its token woman in the line-up. Count the female faces on TV comedy panel shows or comedy showcases and you’ll see it’s endemic.

3 Mx, M, Misc, Mre (pronounced “mistery” – excellent!), Msr (“miser” – rubbish!), Myr, Pr (short for person), Sai (used in Asia) and Ser (used in Latin America). And another one I can’t remember.

4 https://www.roh.org.uk/register – current as of 1 December 2017

Don’t expect wisdom from a baby

 

I’ve belatedly realised that the time when the media really wants to talk to trans people – the “baby trans” phase when they’ve just come out – is both the easiest and the worst possible time to talk to them.

That’s certainly true in my own case. I was interviewed by a few different people when I first came out, and I was so pleased of the attention that I didn’t bother to check whether I was spouting a load of nonsense. With hindsight, I was.

Everything I knew about trans people was based largely on the opinions of non-trans people and a handful of unrepresentative but visible people I’d encountered on the internet. I’d spent many years being told that a handful of extremists and idiots were representative of all trans people, and when I came out I was keen to distance myself from them.

Please like me! I’m not like those other ones! I’m Audrey Hepburn, not Waynetta Slob!

In the many months since I did those interviews I’ve come to realise that when I talked about anybody who wasn’t me, I was talking out of my arse.

As I’ve read more and listened more I’ve discovered how distorted a picture I’d been seeing and how few voices I’d been hearing. My opinions weren’t based on hearing the experiences of trans people; they were based on the opinions of the people who wrote about trans people in newspapers and magazines or talked about them on radio and TV.

As I’ve since discovered, many of those people are biased or even bigoted against trans people; others just don’t do their homework and regurgitate long-discredited arguments. And some just have bad opinions for money.

I thought I knew it all, but now I realise I didn’t know a damn thing.

Swimming in poisoned water

This week is both anti-bullying week and transgender awareness week, so some newspapers have chosen to celebrate both by, er, bullying transgender people (see my previous post). I’m not going to get into the arguments or unpick the bullshit — Alex Sharpe does a superb job of that here.

I’m just going to share a trans person’s tweet I saw yesterday.

So I’m sat on the train and there are four people reading The Sun and two with the Daily Fail in my eyeline… I’ve moved seats! No wonder trans people feel bombarded. #caniliveonthemoon?

Imagine starting your day by seeing six people in the same carriage as you holding newspapers that are doing their damnedest to stir up prejudice against you.

LGB people, muslims and non-EU citizens will recognise the feeling.

And the supposedly grown-up papers aren’t any better: The Times appears to be obsessed with trans people of late, often taking the side of religious evangelicals, while the Telegraph gives space to people like Norman Tebbit, who claimed that gay marriage would lead to him marrying his son.

It’s disproportionate, it’s relentless and it’s causing a great deal of distress for no good reason. And it’s getting worse.

To be trans in the current media climate is to constantly swim in poisoned water. No wonder so many of us end up feeling sick.

It’s world mental health day today. Here’s some advice on psychic self-defence

It’s nearly a year since I came out as trans/NB, and about three years since I was diagnosed with depression. I’m much happier these days. Sometimes clichés are clichés because they’re true: it really does get better.

To mark world mental health day, which is today, I thought I’d scribble a quick piece about the importance of psychic self-defence. I’m writing this with trans people in mind but most of the points are relevant to everybody.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself: how to practice psychic self-defence

One of the things many trans people are pleasantly surprised to discover is that by and large, nobody cares whether you’re trans or not. Unfortunately the few people that do care have very loud voices, and it’s easy to end up feeling quite vulnerable as a result. That’s why it’s important to practice psychic self-defence.


First step: don’t Google “psychic self-defence”, because there’s a whole genre of books out there dedicated to the art of fighting paranormal attacks. I’m talking about something a bit less magical but just as effective, which is insulating yourself from toxic negativity. I call it psychic self-defence; others call it self care.

Don’t follow everyone

Social media can be brilliant for trans people. It enables us to find our kind of people, to learn from others’ experiences and to get support when we need it. However, social media can also be a toxic hellswamp where trans people are besieged by bigots, and if you’re seeing that daily then it’s going to make the world seem a much more wicked place.

The other danger of social media is people sharing anti-trans posts and articles they disagree with. Unfortunately by circulating such media the trans people are doing exactly what the authors want: sharing their views more widely. Again, it makes the world feel much smaller and nastier than it actually is.

Don’t read everything

Just because you’re trans doesn’t mean you need to stay up to date with everything being said or written about being trans. I’ve just cancelled my subscription to a newspaper after an uninterrupted seven day run of misleading anti-trans articles, partly because it meant I started seven consecutive days in a bad mood and partly because if they’re getting the facts wrong on a subject I know about, how do I know they’re reporting accurately on the subjects I don’t?

Turn off notifications

Chances are you have a smartphone, and chances are it notifies you of things you don’t need to be notified of: a new email, a mention on social media, an updated magazine. Very few of these things are worth interrupting what you’re doing, even if you’re doing nothing, and even the silent notifications can have a malevolent impact as the little red circle fills with ever higher numbers of things you haven’t looked at yet. Pare back notifications to things you actually need to know about immediately, turn the others off and enjoy the silence.

Choose your battles


If you wish, you can battle all day every day with people on the internet who want to argue with you – not just about trans issues, although God knows there’s no shortage of those arguments, but about anything at all. You’ll never win and it’ll just make you unhappy. As George Bernard Shaw reportedly put it: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Read the right things

Books are magical things, and even more magical when you’re trans: if you’re feeling pretty low, reading about the experiences of somebody who’s been there, done that and come out smiling really helps. For me that included The Gender Games by Juno Dawson, Trans Like Me by CN Lester and She’s Not There by Jenny Boylan, among many others. Other books that really helped me include Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive and Derren Brown’s Happy.

And of course, fiction provides much-needed escapism. Novels are portals to other worlds, and it’s always fun to travel.

Don’t fall for the beauty myth


By all means aspire to be a better version of yourself – if you aren’t happy with your weight, change what you eat; if you aren’t happy with your fitness, go for a run – but comparing yourself to some of the most beautiful people on the planet is a mug’s game largely perpetrated by people trying to sell you things you don’t need.

Don’t stay online

There’s a world beyond our phones and PCs, and it’s often a much nicer world. Just going out for a walk is good for your body and mind, and if you can combine that with meeting people who actually make your life better then that’s something you should do at every opportunity.

Be nice to yourself


Try to find things that make you happy. They needn’t be big things: a new book from the charity shop or a swim in the local pool can be just as rewarding as a PlayStation 4. My thing is gigs: I love the anticipation, the gig-day excitement and the joy of bouncing around like a loon in a room full of like-minded people. Think of these things as the cure for whatever makes you feel sad, an “In Case Of Emergency Break Glass” for your mental health.

Don’t let the big stuff frighten you

Time for another quote, this time from the Chinese philosopher Laozi in around 600 BC: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Sometimes the best way to deal with a terrifyingly big thing is to concentrate on just putting on foot in front of another. People are natural worriers and many trans people doubly so. Focus on what you can do or deal with right now and let the future take care of itself.

Find someone to talk to


Whether it’s online, a helpline or a real-life friend, it’s important to find people you can talk to when you need to. Friends don’t necessarily mean shoulders to cry on. Just being around people who make you feel happy is powerful magic. We humans are social animals, and friendship is an important factor in how we feel about ourselves. Look on meetup.com or on local noticeboards to find things you might want to do and where you might get to meet nice people.

Bin the booze

Self-medication – a polite way of saying “drinking too much” or “getting off your face on drugs” – is common among trans people, but if you’re already feeling a bit sad they’ll make things worse. It’s boring as hell, I know, but moderating substance use, eating well and doing a bit of exercise will all make huge differences to how you feel, and often how you look too. If you’re spending a fortune on skincare while eating crap or going to the gym to work off junk food you’re wasting your money, and your time.

Don’t waste time on people who aren’t worth it


Online or off, some people are emotional vampires who suck the joy out of everything – and unless they’re your conjoined twin, you don’t have to put up with that. Where possible, avoid spending time with people who’ll just drag you down. That’s harder with close family than with friends, of course, but if you come from a long line of emotional vampires you can still minimise the time you spend with them and do something less negative instead.

Get a dog, or borrow one, or invite a friend who has one over


Dogs are nature’s anti-depressants.

Take care of yourself

Whitney Houston was right. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you need help, ask for it. Being trans isn’t a mental illness, but many of us experience mental illnesses such as depression (as do many other people, of course).

Mental illness is no different to physical illness: you wouldn’t leave your arm hanging off for fear of being judged and you shouldn’t let embarrassment or stigma about mental illness prevent you from getting help. It might take a while to get the right help – different people have different solutions – but it is out there and it does work.

If you’re really struggling and need help right now, these numbers save lives:

Samaritans 116 123 / jo@samaritans.org

LGBT+ switchboard 0300 330 0630

Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87

It’s okay to say you’re not okay.

Shopping with dinosaurs

“People who push for this should be shot and burnt.” What do you think has made Daily Mail commenter Ben (now deleted) so angry? Yep, it’s the labels on John Lewis’s kids’ clothes. According to many tabloids’ commenters, by not labelling clothes as boys’ or girls’ John Lewis is pandering something something librul snowflake SJW muslins etc etc etc it’s political correctness gone mad.

One of the items that’s attracted a lot of comment is a cute wee dress with dinosaurs on it. And I just happen to have an opinion on both dresses and dinosaurs.

I’ve got two kids, a boy and a girl, and when my daughter was 5 she was told by her male classmates that she couldn’t be interested in dinosaurs because they were for boys. She’s also been told that girls aren’t allowed to play with dragons, because they’re for boys too. Girls have to play with unicorns.

You don’t need me to tell you that this gender bullshit starts very early and is reinforced by the unnecessary pinkification of so much girls’ stuff. Finding practical, comfortable shoes for my son is easy. It’s much harder for my daughter, whose trainers are hidden in shops behind a wall of high heels, glitter and sparkles. It’s the same with t-shirts and tops: it’s not unusual for us to leave a shop with an armful of stuff for my son and nothing for my daughter because she doesn’t like pink, sequins or slogans about being pretty.

This is a relatively recent development: children born in the 60s and 70s lived in a more gender neutral world, at least in terms of clothing. Here’s a Lego advert from 1981, before pinkification.

It’s not pink that’s the problem. It’s the constant reinforcement of exaggerated gender differences, to say that girls can’t do A, B and C and boys can’t do X, Y or Z.

John Lewis isn’t trying to change biology, as Facebook poster Susan Perkins suggests. It’s making a little change that tells my daughter that hey! Dinosaurs can be for girls too!

But that’s not what’s caused the “backlash” and “anger” the tabloids report. As ever with gender things, it’s the prospect of boys wearing dresses that’s got people upset, because it’s okay for girls to do boyish things but not the reverse. And discussing that opens up a great big box marked Pandora: it’s a very visible sign of a society that doesn’t value supposedly feminine traits, where what Grayson Perry calls Default Man dominates “the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population.”

As Perry writes: “The most pervasive aspect of the Default Man identity is that it masquerades very efficiently as “normal” – and “normal”, along with “natural”, is a dangerous word, often at the root of hateful prejudice.”

Boys in dresses? We’ll be letting girls play with Lego next. Or as one Daily Express commenter puts it, it’s…

The ongoing Marxist plan to feminise boys, who wont have the desire to fight for their country when it all kicks off.

Hmmm.

Ultimately, though, it’s really very simple. John Lewis isn’t forcing anybody to be gender neutral. It’s just saying that maybe we shouldn’t force dinosaurs to pick a side.

If your son doesn’t want to wear a dress, don’t buy him one.