Friday, 27 November 2015

Why am I so defensive of trans* issues?

I have just watched a documentary that reminds me why I get so upset and defensive when it comes to non-trans* folk discussing transgender people.

It was painful to watch and it made me feel the need to explain my last blog. I shouldn't need to, but it seems that I do. I get emotional when it comes to trans* rights and understanding. I want to explain why I bang on.

I fear that my message in my last blog may have been lost. There was a distinct quietness and any questions regarding feedback came to begrudging 'allowance' of my views. Clearly it was seen as an attack or lack of understanding of feminism. It wasn't. I don't know all the ins and outs of feminism but the basic premise, equality for all and being thought of as a brain not genitals, are the ultimate goal for trans* folk and feminism - as simplified as it is. And it is simplified, I know that.

My attack was not on ideas or ideals but an attack on any type of talk that may lead to people being hurt or losing their life. Any rhetoric that belittles a peoples struggle is just plain wrong, and if that particular group is significantly at risk then it transcends bullying and becomes dangerous hate speech.

I come from very privileged background. Not rich but not in poverty, white, smart and provided with opportunities, living in the UK and, most of all, supported understood and loved. On the surface all is good.

I spent most of my life trapped by severe depression. Feeling that I was living a lie and pretending to be someone else. My options became transition or give up. Saying that transitioning is an affront to feminism is crazy - this was not a life I chose and it was something that I had to do e from my position of apparent comfort.  

Why would I choose to spend a life where I have to think very carefully where I travel to? Where I give up male authority in meetings to be taken less seriously and have to fight twice as hard to be heard. Where, in part of the US - a 'developed' country - I can be arrested for using the bathroom. Where I walk down the street and get pointed at, stared at, laughed at, have looks of disgust. Where I risk beatings. I don't get them - but I make sure I am not in that position as best I can. As glad as I am to be spending time in Manchester over the coming Xmas weeks I will have to make myself as unnoticed on busses as possible. Where it will be better to have a scarf wrapped round my face till I cannot breath so that folks don't catch whiff on my trans* status when walking around in the dark. Course, this is something females often have to worry about but it does add another layer. If I get attention for being female by some jerk that is not something I want. But if they then notice that I am - in their minds - not female, that just makes it so much worse. All of a sudden I become less than female, less than human. Worthless. Meaningless. Expendable.

This is why we cannot afford to have anyone talk about how much our lives are a joke. I realise that certain folks talk about trans-women and the things we put ourselves through with transitioning as an affront to feminism but know that we have to do that. We have to, for us. Having intelligent people with a respected platform making light of our struggles makes us worthless, less than human. And in that case, those who would physically attack us cannot be blamed for the way we are seen. And if your family, work colleagues or maybe even you yourself as a trans-person buys in to this, how can you see any other option but suicide?

Yes, this is not something that only happens to trans-folk. It happens in many countries based on gender, religion, background. But here I am tackling one issue - that that puts me, myself, in danger.

I come from privilege and yet I held off when it comes to getting on with my life. For fear of ridicule and rejection. For fear of physical harm. Putting myself at mental harm as a result.

I would like to think that I could have achieved much more so far in my career. With so much on my mind, how could I really apply myself and focus? I would like to think that there are some researchers out there wondering why I have such poor output. This is why. And once I knew what I had to do I kinda gave up. I know, having been in industry as a perceived male, what females face in some industries. And also what any LGBT people face. I have been privy to many conversations not meant for me. So industry is out and I knew I had not achieved my potential in academia which meant that my career, worked so hard at for so long, was over.

Or so I thought. I was given a lifeline. I was lucky, so very lucky. The option that came along would not normally do so. I was fully ready to retrain - even convinced myself that it was what I had always wanted. Sure, if I went back time to my first university choice I would change it. But what I do now I can do well and I do think I have potential. I want to achieve that. I have a life line and now I fully hope to be able to start clawing back publications, regain my potential reputation. I'll need help and I hope I have it.

I want to make myself a name in science and show that a trans* person can do that. That any openly LGBT person can. I want to look my peers in the eye at conferences, even as an invited speaker and chair, and show that I have achieved what I can and that being trans* is not something that will hold you back if you decide not to let it.

Again, not everyone has that option - my background allows this - but it is time to use my privilege and lead the way for as many others as I can. I feel it will make a difference. Let's be honest, I have no visions of grandeur, I'd rather just get on and live my own life. But it is not possible for everyone - so I need to fight for those that can't. In my way. I'm not going to spend my evenings campaigning - I just want to paint my miniatures and play board games. But I would like to show that I can have a successful career in science and hope that that is enough to help others.

These are the experiences of someone with privilege. I read so much depressing information regarding the trans* population. I read a lot of things that make my heart bleed. I cannot imagine what others have gone through. But I understand - I know it happens. Over 50% young trans* kids in the UK have attempted suicide - and that is those who come forward - the ones who are already on the 'winning' side of their mental health battles. For comparison, it is less than ~5% for cis-folk. And nearly 20% for the LGB population btw. The figures vary from source to source, but the trends are all rather similar. Murder, well in 2015 we have set a new rate of nearly 1 trans-person killed every 29 hours worldwide despite being less than 1% of the overall population. Nearly one a day. If you are black, you are far more at risk - again, I am so very privileged. Yes, this is disproportional. This is high. This is insane.

So if you wonder why some trans- folks take any trans* hate, or even just bits of fun poked, very seriously, this is why. Because we have a lot of baggage - but very real baggage. Even if it is not mine, it is there in my community. I feel every trans* death in Iraq equally to those in the states or the UK. Trans* is trans*. We are small, we need to stick together. And it may be that some trans* folk go way over the top. Well, this is why. We need to be heard and we are hurting so much that any comment is emotional. It may seem that some trans* people go 'off' over nothing. And you are probably right. We sometimes pick the wrong battle. We make too much out of nothing.

Personally I have just complained about a poster in the women's bathroom at work. It is a small, meaningless joke - but our position in the world is far too fragile to not at least challenge folks and make them think. I should not be offended by this poster that depicts the cross-dressers from Little Britain but I am. Any joke is too much right now, when we are fighting to be taken seriously. To make people understand what transgender means.

Caitlyn Jenner is far from 'woman of the year' (or even trans-person of the year for me, but I digress...) and I understand why a magazine awarding her this has caused outrage.  But understand why this was an important move: not for political correctness or any sort of agenda, but from that of making transgender people be seen as real people.  

Yes, I wish some trans* folk would shut up - they make us look bad. Make us look like we are whining. But know where this comes from. It comes from fear, repression and hurt. Nearly every trans* person has hurt in some way. So things do become over-sensitive.

I'd hope that this is understandable. Please don't attack us. Help us. Once we are on normal murder, violence and suicide rates then we can start debating the crap that we talk. Heck, let us get to the point where we can use bathrooms in the civilised world in peace. Where we have equal rights to those of cis-people. Where we are not questioned for knowing who we are and where those in power still think they know us better than we do. Where folks who are sent to prison for making dreadful life decisions can at least head to the right prison to serve their well deserved time without fear of rape and abuse. Then you can start calling out our over reactions.

But let's get to that position first, please.

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