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

Tuesday 4 March 2014

If I opened my heart there'd be no room for air.

I sat up all night on Sunday watching the Oscars, I studied film and old habits die hard.  Most Stand-up comics wanted to rock stars, I didn't, I wanted to be a director.

After I left university I took an idea that I'd had and extended it into a feature film and spent 2 years trying to write it and get it made, I got training, I got the Prince's Trust to agree to fund me if I could get the rest of the funding in place, I wrote a business plan that made the bank agree to part fund me and then...  Well then I gave up, because to be frank the film I'd written was shit.  It was awful, it was wish fulfilment bollocks, my way of dealing with the bullying I'd faced at school, the alcoholic paranoia that I was going through and a way to focus my rage.

It was a few months after that when I was working a shitty data entry job in my home town of Chorley and thinking "Is this it?  Is this what I do now for 48 weeks a year for the next 50 years until I retire and then have a few years to myself before I die?  Fuck.  That."  and I started looking for a new outlet, and comedy, the one thing I really wanted but I thought I couldn't ever do became the last thing on my list of creative outlets and I gave it a go.

These days I make my living making people laugh and I'm really good at it, and that's why I can stay up all night on a Sunday without having to worry about getting up for work the next day.

There's always the worry that I'll not be able to stay awake mind you, but fortunately the first Oscar went to Jared Leto, so the ensuing fury kept me awake for the rest of the show.  It was helped along by various people on twitter getting all happy that he won.  I wasn't happy.  For the record I'd much rather Jonah Hill to have won.

My reason for not wanting him to win is fairly simple.  His character in Dallas Buyers Club was a poorly researched mix of stereotypes which could have been handled much better, and could have been played better by a trans actor.  They would have pulled the director up a lot of the things that were unbelievable about the way Leto played the role.

I also disliked the character as it was there to fulfil the dominant narrative of the femme trans woman who's essentially a gay man pretending to be what they think a woman is, who is there to be made fun of, and who is there, in the end to be pitied.

It's one of the reasons I know that no matter how good I get at what I do I'll never make it big in a mainstream way.  I don't follow that narrative.  I'm not femme,  I don't sleep with men, I'm not a tragic figure.

I went off to sleep, and then woke up at 10am  a good hour earlier than I'd normally wake up, and a good 3 hours before I should have woken up, so I spent all of yesterday feeling exhausted, and angry.

I was happy to leave my anger from the previous night behind, but it seemed a storm was brewing on the horizon and lots of people were talking about Leto's Oscar and it seems, a some people who felt the way I did about the character (all of them trans)  and lots of people who disagreed with our point of view (All of them cisgendered)

So the day was spent fighting, and not in the usual internet fighting way of "hmm I disagree with their point,  I should say something massively unforgivable and end it with a death threat" kind of way, but in the tiring, depressing, shame fuelled way when you're trying to argue with people who you like, who are on your side normally, and you're fighting with them about your right to exist, about your right to not have to deal with prejudice, about your right to be treated equally, you know, like a human being.

On top of that having to deal with people who seem to think "straight" is the opposite of "trans" becomes tiring too, having to explain that being trans, isn't, as Rayon is portrayed, about being so gay you want to be the opposite gender.  Like trans is the gayest of the gay,  I mean, I am very gay and trans, but not in the way that they think.  The opposite of transgendered is cisgendered.  If you are born relating to your body and it's primary and secondary sexual characteristics then you're cisgendered.  Both come from the Latin, trans meaning on the opposite side to, cis meaning on the same side as.

By far the largest group who got angry about people criticising Leto's character were cis gay white men. And I get it, I really do,  if you belong to a minority who's been persecuted and things have got better, you like to think that it's got better for everyone equally, and that's not the case.  When someone starts telling you that maybe you're not persecuted as much as you think you are and there are people who are worse off than you then your ace up your sleeve is taken from you and it feels like being attacked.  You get all hot, your heart rate increases, you don't like to think of yourself as a bad person, so you rewrite the story, it's their fault, they're being over sensitive.

It's so easy to do, and it's natural, it's how our brains work.  I get it I really do, I've been called out a number of times, including yesterday when I said something that was horribly racist,  I didn't realise it at the time as it wasn't even within my thought process, and someone angrily called me out on it.  I did all of those things for about 5 seconds, then I thought about it rationally and went "Yep, they're right, I've fucked up.  I should apologise and never do that again."  Just like that.  Same as my policy on forgiveness, if someone's genuinely sorry, I'll forgive them straight away. It's incredibly tough to do something so simple, but then the right thing is most often the most difficult thing to do in a given situation.

The whole experience just let me know that whilst people are accepting of trans people, they don't get it.  And that's okay, but when you don't get it, don't try to tell me that I'm in the wrong about it.  I live with it, every day.

And living with it and dealing with the inside of my head can sometimes be a full time job.  It's 14 years since I came out to friends and family and started my transition.  Before that I spent 21 years trying to hide that disphoria that I felt in my own body from everyone including myself.  The shame I felt at feeling this way.  I'd drink and it'd take away the thoughts of my problems for the first part of the night and then bring them back as obsessions and the hang overs would bring that existential agony and horror as it would be all my head was filled with.

As a teenager as my body began to change I hated myself, I hated being trapped, I hated having to pretend to be a boy at school, failing at it in a way that neither I nor anyone else really got and getting bullied for it.  I got beaten up regularly, I had other kids cut my hair, call me names and make my life hell.

I found my body so alien to me that I couldn't be naked if at all possible, I'd get changed in the dark or under my bedclothes I couldn't look at myself in a mirror unless I was fully clothed.

The only representations of anyone I saw who were like me were people who's narrative was that they were unhappy, sad people who were to be ridiculed and pitied, who had come out and were disowned by their family, attacked in the street and lived lonely lives.

When that was the option if I came out, for the longest time trying to live this lie was easier.

Eventually that option was preferable and I came out.

The world's changed a lot in the last 14 years and I'm proud of the part that I've helped to play in that.

When I first transitioned I was told that I should never tell anyone if at all possible that I was trans because that was dangerous, I was criticised by people in the community when I said that I didn't want to hide in another closet.  People told me that would be the only thing that people thought about.

To an extent I know that they're right, even allies do that.  When I got sexually assaulted by a male guard at Copenhagen Airport last year almost EVERYBODY assumed that it was because I was trans, like, that wasn't even a question.  Other trans people went down that line too.  It wasn't, it was because the way that security is set up at Copenhagen Airport sexual assault of women by male guards is so common that it's not even considered an issue by the security team or the local police.

The reason everyone assumed that it was because I was trans was because I'm open with my family and friends about being trans, so they assume that everyone who meets me in the street knows too, some do some don't but the assumption that everyone does and that's the reason for every bad thing that happens is hurtful.

When I took part in a panel discussion on Gender Identity last year it caused a stink and I got a lot of hassle, one thing that came from a cisgendered "ally" was that I was unsuitable to talk about gender identity because I was too privileged, and one of the reasons for that was because I had "passing privilege" meaning I don't get read as trans, which maybe I don't as much as some, but I do more than others,  when complete strangers go "Are you a bird or a bloke?" in the street to me I'd count that as not "passing"  When audience members ask me the same thing, when little children at the swimming baths or in changing rooms go "Mummy why does that man not have a willy?"  it doesn't feel like it,  When guys in bars come over and tell my friends "you know that's a man right?" and point at me, or just stare and then laugh in my face, it doesn't feel like I "pass"

Every day is a fight, every single day, and that's without having to deal with people who are on my side, but don't get it telling me I'm over reacting expecting a decent representation of people like myself somewhere in the media.

The stuff I've been through not only in my first 21 years of trying to pretend to be male, but in the 14 years that have followed have affected me in a way that makes every day difficult to get through.  I'm much happier now, my life is sweet,  I'm comfortable in my own skin, I've got an awesome girlfriend who loves me very much, and a job I love that makes me really happy.

But still I find it difficult to go out of the house, I find it difficult because even after 14 years there's a part of my brain that goes "people are going to read you as male and you're going to get attacked", every time I open my mouth I expect everyone to turn around and stare at me for the booming male voice that comes out of it.  A part of my head is still always surprised when I'm not misgendered, as I always expect it.

When it does happen and someone calls me sir or says "He" to me the shame and embarrassment just makes me want to die, to burst into tears and go somewhere dark and never have to interact with people again.

I'm surprised that my girlfriend loves me, I'm surprised that I've got a girlfriend because the whole of society has been sending me fairly open messages that people like me are unlovable.

I can't get on public transport because as a teenager and through the early part of my transition, buses and trains were the places where I was most likely to get attacked.

I also know that people are going to ask me questions that they wouldn't think of asking other people, I get asked about my genitals a lot by complete strangers in a way that I'm sure they don't do to cisgendered women.  "So, have you, you know... had the op?"  A hello would have been nice rather than going straight in with that, these days when they do that I ask when the first day of their last period was, what age they started menstruating and whether they suffer with vaginal dryness.

These are all the things that are constantly going on in my head when I take part in the world and it's so easy to just withdraw, or not talk about these things and so mostly I don't.  I know that I come across as a bit odd to people when I meet them, a bit awkward, a bit weird, I know this, this is a hangover from everything I've been through.  It's anxiety inducing, it's depressing, it regularly gives me suicidal thoughts, and that's the reality of having to fight this fight every single day of my life.  The internalised transphobia and trangst that's a result of dealing with the world can be awful.

In spite of all this though, I've got an amazing life, I love my life and I'm happy. I'm proud to say I'm trans, and I wouldn't want to be cis.  It's a part of who I am, not the whole of it, but it's given me opportunities and experiences I could never have dreamed of otherwise.

I'm not part of the "angry trans mob" that occasionally gets whipped up on twitter, but whenever I do get angry I'm automatically lumped in with that.  Being overly sensitive it's called. Rather than what it actually is which is wanting the same things as everyone else, to be treated with the same respect as everyone else, to have the same opportunities as everyone else.

The thing is we don't, we're right at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to this.  We're the one minority group that it's still okay to make fun of, and we've had enough, for the first time in history we've been able to get together and have a voice, and we're starting to use that voice to highlight the way things are wrong with how we're treated, yes we get it wrong sometimes, but we're still years behind the rest of the LGBT movement.

The character who Jared Leto played felt badly researched, it felt like a stereotype, to be laughed at, to be pitied.  Yes, it increases visibility, yes, it shows that we've moved a way forward that a character like this could win an Oscar, but the character was all wrong, and that's the issue.

There's a scene in an episode of South Park where Randy has said the N word on national Television and Stan is trying to tell his black friend Token that he "gets it" and eventually getting to the end of the episode where he realises that he doesn't get it, he can't possibly get it and all he can hope for is to learn.   This is what yesterday felt like to me, banging my head against a wall and feeling like my experience wasn't considered valid by people who haven't a level of understanding about the issue involved.

1 comment:

Galaisms said...

Bethany - thank you so much for this incredibly powerful piece. I hope you don't mind - I've shared this with a group of health professionals who were struggling to grasp the issues and barriers that transgender people face - I can't think of a better way to get the message across.

thank you