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 22 August 2013

She maybe the face I can't forget A trace of pleasure or regret

As if being a trans woman wasn't dangerous enough, coming out is difficult as it is but doing it the day after you've been given a 35 year prison sentence is hard as fucking nails.

But that's exactly what Chelsea Manning has done and for that I respect her greatly.  When someone whose name is so public comes out whether they're a musician such as Laura Jane Grace of Against Me, or in this case Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, the idea that trans people's lives belong to the media is thrown into sharp relief.

If you're like me and hate injustice, but are a bit emotionally fragile news like this is met with relief and dread.  Relief that as more and more people know about more and more high profile transitioning trans people the world will get slightly better for the rest of us, and dread because it means when I see that trending topic on twitter I don't want to click on to it because I know it's like the bit in Scrooged where Bill Murray looks under The Ghost of Christmas Future's robes and sees the lost souls screaming in eternal torment.

I don't read the bottom half of the internet, the bit where the general public get their say on things,  I remember someone once saying that reading the comments section on the internet is like examining a 15 year old boy's bedsheets with a magnifying glass, you know what you're going to find and it's best not to look.

I also apply this rule looking at the top half of The Daily Mail, whose commenter's this week lurched beyond parody when one of them asked where one of the two British girls arrested for drug smuggling in Peru had got her jacket from.

I used to be full of piss and vinegar and would search out every injustice, eke every bit of outrage out of anything that I could (and if you'll remember what happened a few weeks ago between Caitlin Moran and I you'll realise I still can)  but I eventually realised that it's best for my mental health if I don't go digging.  I know it's a bit of a cowards way out, but I know that as a recovering addict and alcoholic that if I go picking at these things then the likelihood is that I'll get all angry, then I'll get upset, then this will spiral and if I'm not careful my mind is back to the same places it was when I was drinking and using drugs.  So all in all it's best to be avoided.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I was doing a phone interview for a Radio One show due out in October about trans issues and was being interviewed by Paris Lees, someone who I have had run ins with and arguments with in the past but whom I respect immensely.  3/4 of the way through the interview she asked me which trans people I look up to.  And I thought about it for a second and realised that she was one of them, so I told her.

The reason for that is that when I can't bear to look through the newspaper reports that either misgender trans people or paint us out as monsters, or as freaks or as deceivers, she has made her career from looking at these things and fighting that fight.  I respect that a lot.  It makes my job of going out there, or even staying here and shouting about equality that much easier if all I have to do when people are shits is tell them to fuck off, or block them.

So today when the news broke of Chelsea Manning beginning her transition, which had to come on a day when it looked like I might be getting made homeless (in the end it didn't, but it was touch and go.)  I thought "Fair play internet, you win this round, I will avoid you."

As it happens This time the Mail used the right pronouns all the way through, the BBC in their coverage didn't.  This doesn't really surprise me, often right wingers really like me and are more accepting of me being female (even if it is for the wrong reasons) than the supposedly open minded left are.  Stuff like this hasn't surprised me since I was doing some work on a piece with a very successful writer, who'd written some fabulous lesbian characters who asked me "how can you be lesbian and trans?  Don't all lesbians just want to be men anyway?"

But I understand that people get confused.  It's confusing to deal with something outside of your comfort zone.  People will fuck up, people will use the wrong pronouns, just like my family did,  just like my dad still does sometimes by accident when he's nervous and he's around a new partner of mine.  Every time.  He gets really upset by it but I know that it comes from nerves rather than malice so I find it really endearing.

There will be people out there who do get it wrong, and that's okay because there is a difference between making a mistake because you're used to one thing and deliberately disregarding someone's autonomy and preference.

My partner who has English as a second language put it best when we were talking about how people perceive trans people  "there is a worldwide misconception that transsexuals become the opposite sex.  That little Johnny was happily playing with guns and soldiers and suddenly decided in later life to become a woman.  That's how I had it explained to me 'he decided to become a woman' when that's just not the case."

And she's right.  If the papers and the media just said "Manning is actually a woman." rather than "Manning is becoming a woman"  Over night it would slightly shift the perception of people to a more understanding viewpoint.

Often, exclusionary radical feminism events such as the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival which has an entrance policy of "Womyn born womyn only!" fails in the realisation that trans women were born women.  It's just that they weren't treated as women from day one, and had to tell the rest of the world that they were when they got older.  Or as I try to explain it, when I was born my parents were convinced I was going to be a boy, for about 20 years.

I didn't transition to become a woman, I transitioned away from living as a man. And as scary as it was it was without a doubt the best thing I have ever done in my life, without it I wouldn't have a life.

I hope this also makes it easier for people who are struggling with being trans to see that whatever their personal circumstances and obstacles to their coming out and transitioning that at least they've not just been sentenced to 35 years in a federal prison after spending 3 and a half years in Guantanamo.

So to Chelsea Manning who is starting this process now in the most trying of circumstances I wish the best of luck and can say I can add another person to the list of trans people I admire and hope for the best for her,


Euan said...

Brilliant piece, thanks!

One wee correction though, Laura Jane Grace is the singer from Against Me! rather than Rise Against.


Bethany Black said...

Amended. I must unfortunately confess I've not listened to her work, but I suspect she's not listened to mine either so I guess that makes us even.

saint said...

Just a note, Chelsea was imprisoned in Quantico, not Guantanamo. (tho every time I see it I read it as Guantanamo too)