Musings arguments and gig reports from your favourite Goth lesbian transsexual vegan recovering alcoholic and drug addict sceptic rationalist atheist comedian chameleon and caricature.

Thursday 21 March 2013

They call it climbing and we call it visibility

It's been a while, and I've been trying to think about starting to blog again.  I enjoy it and I find it really helpful, but every time I mean to something gets in the way.  Life has a funny way of doing that.  But today something happened that shocked me into writing  again.  The news of the death of Lucy Meadows.

Lucy was a Teacher from Accrington, just 13 miles away from where I grew up.  She was also a similar age to me, and like me Lucy was trans.

It's been 13 years since I came out as trans and started the journey to becoming who I now am, I was 20 at the time and the internet was nowhere near as common as it is now, access to other trans people was very limited, I grew up in a cultural vacuum.   I also grew up in a small village just off the Pennine Moors, it was all a bit Jeanette Winterson.  Thinking back to the world then it all seems so different.  I hoped that things would get better, I knew that they would, because they always do, eventually.  I had a very supportive friends and family network and as I grew in confidence about what I was doing and who I was my life got better and better.

As this was the early 2000s and being gay had only just become culturally acceptable, even fashionable and Canal St in Manchester's Gay Village was full on weekends of stag and hen nights looking for somewhere that bit cooler to hang out, but being trans then was like being gay was in the 1950s.

When I came out to my mother I'll never forget her response, she said "But we've just had a conservatory built!" at the time I didn't understand what she meant, and I talked about it in my comedy set years later, it was only then that she fully explained to me.  "When you told me you were trans, the only think I knew about transsexuals was what I'd seen in the media, that you'd be sad and lonely, and that people would want to attack you for being weird and different.  I'm you're mother, and I love you and I wanted to protect you and even though we'd just spent a massive amount of money on the house I was prepared to move away and start somewhere new with you as long as you were protected."

Even typing that now brings a lump to my throat.  For the first few years of my transition I tried to be what they call "Stealth"  Which at the time was considered the best option for you if you "passed" as female, which I did.  Let's face it I'd always been female, people just didn't realise until I was 20 and I told them, and when I did they all went "ooh, yeah, that makes sense."  But at the time there was such a stigma surrounding being trans that you didn't tell anyone.  Being out meant being a target for ridicule, abuse and getting fired.  The law had only recently changed so that if I had been arrested and tried for a crime I'd have been sent to a male prison, I couldn't get my birth certificate amended to female and if I'd died my death would have been listed under my legal gender and original name "Ben Horsley".  You could get fired without problems for having "Lied at the interview" about your gender.  It was best, I was told, if you didn't have to be visible, not to be visible.

I was never very good at that, and over time more and more people knew, and I discovered something quite shocking.  VIRTUALLY NO ONE CARED!   Simple, people take as they find.  And aside from a few radical feminists who'd read a bit too much Janice Raymond, no one gave me any shit for it.

I remember talking to people about deciding to come out, not just to friends but on stage.  A lot told me not to, that why should I unless I had to, I remember thinking that after coming out and living as the woman that I was and not trying to pretend any more to be male it was so freeing.  For the first time since I was about 3 years old I was happy.  I enjoyed things.  I didn't come out of one closet to go into another.

I talked about being trans on stage, and still, no one cared.  About 80% took me as they found me, 15% liked me even more because of it, and 5% hated me.  As time went on I resolved myself to be more out there, to live my life as openly and publicly as I could, because if I didn't who would?

I didn't see anyone like me anywhere when I was growing up, it was isolating, so since then I've seen it as a duty to be out there making the path easier for anyone who has to follow.  Still people say "why do you do it, why are you so open about it, it's no one else's business?"  Because people still don't know enough about this subject, there's still a level of prurience, a level of prejudice and a lot of ignorance.

I'd hoped in the 13 years since I came out that things had got better, that I'd helped in some small way, and in a lot of ways it has, just not enough.

Lucy was about to begin her transition, she was going to do what the doctors call "the real life test" which is to live in your new gender role for a period of time, usually no shorter than a year more often two years, before you'll be referred for surgery.  She'd told the school she worked at, and with the support of the staff, the governors and the parents she'd kept her job, so far so good.  Until the Daily Mail's Richard Littlejohn decided to write a hate piece about her.

A lot of trans women have had their lives pawed over by the media when they transition, their privacy invaded at a time which is massively stressful anyway.  I remember the first time I went out dressed in female clothes.  The fear that I had was almost unbearable, I was convinced that every person I saw would know, and would hurl abuse at me or attack me.  It was terrifying, and it continued to be terrifying for years afterwards, even though there were very few occasions where I was read as male.

I can only imagine what it's like for that fear to become a reality, to be hounded in the press for just being yourself at a time when you're having to deal with incredible mental and emotional pressures.  The 5% of people who seem to still have such a problem with trans people that they'd give them abuse being given this information, where you live, where you work and having their prejudices backed up by a national newspaper.  It's just unbearable to think of.

I'm surprised something like this hasn't happened before now.  Lucy's body was found at her home on Tuesday afternoon.  Some are saying it's suicide, there's no suspicious circumstances.

I'd hoped that 13 years on and 13 miles away life would be better for someone who had the same realisation to come to that I did.  Unfortunately it wasn't, and it won't be until people are educated enough to not think of being trans as something so unbelievably weird that it deserves national press coverage.

The tone of the Littlejohn piece was "won't someone think of the children?"  My brother's children were primary school age when I came out, they saw every step of what I went through, and you know what?  They're kids.  EVERYTHING'S NEW AND WEIRD TO THEM.  They dealt with it.  They dealt with it better than they dealt with finding out there's no Santa Claus.

Like with all bigotry, when people can't justify saying "I hate you because I don't understand why you're the way you are and aren't how I want you to be!"  They say "I'm alright with it, but I worry about the kids".

Bigots always try to dress their bigotry up in concern, to deflect away from their fundamental fascism that everyone should be more like them and then the world would be alright.  It's not and it never will be, and as long as there's people out their like Littlejohn and his fellows, as long as there's people who are scared to death to come out as trans, as long as newspapers think it's news to invade the privacy of trans people, to poke around and go "oooh! look at the freaks!"  I will be out.  I will be proud and I will fight to my very last breath.

This terrible waste of life, this terrible awful thing that has happened should never be allowed to happen again. Visibility is the key, people find it very difficult to be ignorant and scared of something they know about.


Kahn Johnson said...

Fuckin' brilliant piece, Beth.
Much as we'd like to think the world is moving on, deadweights like Littlejohn are still dragging us back.
Keep shouting, people are listening x

Unknown said...

Spot on. Littlejohn says that children aren't equipped for dealing with a trans teacher, but he's fine with them dealing with the death of one? Not to maention her daughter and wife who will now be left to deal with horrific and untimely loss.

To my mind the Mail's article and Littlejohn's subsequent hate-column is tantamount to manslaughter. And at the very, very least is genuine evil. I like to believe that everyone has some good in them, but I struggle to believe it when heartless, needless dross like that gets printed. Hateful paper, hateful people.

Unknown said...

This was a great post, and really eye-opening. I don't live in the UK and hadn't read that particular piece of Daily Mail vileness. It's an important reminder of the power and effects of hatred.

RIP Lucy Meadows.

Unknown said...

Thank you for being visible, thank you for writing this. As a cis-gender person I'm never going to understand what a trans person has to go through, but the more I know the better I can support those going through it. I am thankful for my trans friends, not only for their friendship, but for helping me to learn about something that I didn't know enough about before. The more vocal trans people there are in the world, the more the world will realize that it's not 'weird' it's just another path.

Jonathan said...

Like with all bigotry, when people can't justify saying "I hate you because I don't understand why you're the way you are and aren't how I want you to be!" They say "I'm alright with it, but I worry about the kids".

Yes, exactly that.

Unknown said...

Very thought provoking. And yes, people like that weasel Littlejohn are a blight on our society.

Unknown said...

Thank you for speaking up. Your voice has the power to combat bigotry and hatred. Lucy's pain is felt and she will not be forgotten, even on the other side of the world. Keep inspiring others.


Mandy said...

My 9 year old has no issue with my trans g/f. Bigotry is learned, you're not born with it. Great blog. :)

Emmett AJ Trouse said...

Very well said.
That's the downside of being stealth, sure it's nice to have that bit of privacy, but it means no-one knows just how many we number or that we are perfectly bloody normal people who just happen to have a birth defect. Visibility has to be the way forward.

Unknown said...

Fantastic piece of writing, wish everyone could read this and understand more.
That scumbag littlejohn should be forced to read this out on live television, then apologise.

inane wittering said...

Excellent piece, you know what makes me angry? The VoiceOver on M&S adverts. I'm a straight male, and that makes me angry.

People who are trying to live their lives the way that they were supposed to be lived DONT annoy me. People like Littlejohn don't care about that. They just want to rile people who are as scared and confused as he is. It doesn't matter to them that this can have such a tragic outcome, it's just the way that they think.

That's wrong. It's counter intuitive to being human, and it's unacceptable.

It's interesting that you mentioned being trans now is like being gay in the 1950's. we've come a long way in our attitudes, but there's no room for complacency here. No room to accept the status quo.
People are people, and they come in all shapes and sizes and races and orientations. There's no way that we can put up with attitudes such as Littlejohns, it's backward. It goes against us as a species.

Turnerandpooch said...

I am a straight woman who discovered this link on twitter. I just wanted to say, as a teacher myself and hopefully as a mother soon, that children face far far worse. Littlejohn and the mail continue to be a disgrace to our country. It's just Lucy had no-one like you in her life to turn to. X

Buggrititeltem said...

The only kids I'm concerned about are the kids of the bigots who are being raised on bigotry.

I just hope that as they get older their horizons are broadened and their minds are opened.

Sadly it seems that the idiots with the most closed minds also seem to have the most open mouths!

Unknown said...

I've never heard of you before, but after reading this, I love everything about you.

Jenny said...

Very moving post. Children are far more adaptable than adults. It's ridiculous to say that they'll be damaged by exposure to new concepts.

Unknown said...

I wonder - do pond scum writers like Littlejohn really believe the hatred they spew out or is it just to fuel the bigots and increase readership? Both reasons are equally mystifying I know...
I was a teacher before I got sick so I know kids accept people for who they are and how they treat them. It's adults that socialise that open mindedness out of them :( Whether you're different due to a disability or how you dress or who you love - the closed small minded scared people seem very powerful at spreading their negativity. It's frustrating and heartbreaking and my heart and soul weep.
Sorry we still live in a world where you felt the need to write this. Even more sorry that poor Lucy had to discover first hand the damage that bigots do.
Love, light and strength to you - thanks for writing this.

Triviadave said...

I've arrived here because of a tweet from Neil Gaiman, and really glad I did. Bethany, thank you for this blog. It is really refreshing, and enlightening to hear from someone who's life experience is so different from my own.

I have never read an article by Richard Littlejohn before (I had always avoided them because I had heard lots about his opinions), and having read the column in question I never want to again. You can see he is well educated because his comments are one step up from "some of my best friends are and almost sound like he has sympathy (until you see the subtext, which doesn't take long); but the way he has chosen to use that education is appalling. His piece is more offensive than an uneducated article because it purports to be reasoned, and as you say, plays on our base fears of worry for our children etc.

The part that worries me more are the comments made by one of the parents. Yes, it is a difficult issue to come to terms with. If I am honest, I don't understand what makes someone decide they were born the wrong gender (but my opinion isn't important, as long as I treat everyone as an individual; whatever is right for the individual is the most important thing and everybody else's "role" is to respect those decisions) and I can imagine it would be very difficult to explain to a young child. However, that is part of parenting.

Teaching children that everyone is different and that other people make choices that we may not understand, but are right for them, is an important part of parenting. I have heard similar arguments about teachers with disabilities and how these "freaks" should not be allowed near our children because they wouldn't understand - following the paralympics, I don't think anyone would buy that argument. Yes, homosexuality (not part of the Lucy Meadows story I know) and transgender are difficult subjects to explain, but much easier to explain to a young child than death and why someone decided to kill themselves because they were depressed.

I wish I could have made this shorter, but after reading about this tragic story I felt compelled to say something.

Unknown said...

Well written! I'm glad to see that you are out & proud BE YOUrself indeed.Enjoy life & follow your bliss.Truly an inspirational piece good job!

RIP Lucy Meadows.

Unknown said...

This was an awesome piece, loved the bits about bigots.