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.