May 10, 2018 § Leave a comment
Optics, not content. Writing for The Huffington Post on the exploitation of trans people and out of date controversy. Read it here:
October 3, 2013 § 10 Comments
I’ve said before that I don’t usually write in the first flush of anger – I prefer to let it simmer down and reduce into something luscious and thick and punchy. But right now I am very, very angry – and it’s not new, but it’s been stoked up fresh today, and there’s nothing for it but to write it down.
I am so sick and tired of trans bodies being seen through the lens of cissexism, in all its forms, that I could break something – many things. Two news items today that managed to tick every box in the othering, the judging, of trans bodies and the individuals who inhabit them. First, a seemingly well-intentioned but still infuriating piece in The Advocate – My Attraction to Trans People is not a Fetish – a claim I would have taken more seriously if the author hadn’t used such fetishistic terms for trans people, nor recycled so many of the usual tropes about trans bodies. The second – a heartbreaking story about a Belgian trans man who applied for and received euthanasia – titillatingly retold by news agency after news agency. Here’s a typical example – ‘failed’ surgery (‘botched’ has frequently been used) – and nothing to contradict the tragic claim from an abused and depressed man that he was ‘a monster’.
Ask yourself – the last time you read about trans bodies in a piece written by a cis person, did it contain any of these assertions/hints as to these beliefs? Or have you encountered them in everyday life – because god knows it happens to me all the time:
- That trans bodies are ‘mutilated’ cis bodies – even when it’s couched in the politest of terms. Both as a threat/plea against physical transition (“but you’re so lovely as you are/it would be such a waste”) and as an attack against those who’ve been through all kinds of medical transition. I’m not going to write out the things frequently said about trans genitals – they’re just too hateful to be on this blog.
- That trans bodies are ‘failed’ cis bodies – ‘well done old boy, but not quite cricket’. Poor old things. Not quite up to scratch. Done their best. Best you can hope for. What a shame.
- That trans bodies are so different…so sexy…so exotic. Yes. All trans bodies. Because we’re all alike, and we all have a mixture of differently societally gendered bodily attributes (but only in a way attractive to cis people! otherwise fail!) which make us special and exciting. Even if you ‘can’t tell by looking’ we give off a magical aura that no cis person has.
- That trans bodies are so different…and terrifying…and help, dystopian nightmare! Franken-something and something-bot. Freaks! All of us! Run away!
Not all cis people do this, not by a long shot. And it’s not that I don’t want a person attracted to me to also be attracted to my body – for better or worse it’s the one I’m stuck with – I’d done my best with it and I want to be desired and found beautiful as much as the next person.
But my body is not a metaphor or entry into a crypto-category of fetish object. No other person has the right to write over it, or depersonalize it – try to dissect it or approach it in a way that negates the intellect that drives it. It’s not a prop, or a bogeyman, or a sex toy – I will not have read back to me what a cis person does or does not find acceptable about the physical embodiment of my self, regardless of the actual self in question.
There are cis people who steal our bodies away from ourselves – through gatekeeping, through cultural pressure, through ‘humour’ and abuse and pity and scorn. We need to take them back.
June 1, 2012 § 1 Comment
What really sticks with me, each time I read the excuses trotted out by the people making or condoning this kind of ‘comedy’ (I’m going to run out of quotation marks), is the way in which trans people don’t seem to exist to them beyond a punchline. That because, for so long, they’ve relegated us to the roles of ‘sad mannish tranny’, ‘deceptively enticing she-male’ and ‘creepy cross-dressing pervert’ there’s no longer any mental space left to fit in the actual reality of who we are. It’s dehumanising in the extreme. It makes you wonder – do they realise that they meet trans people on a regular basis? Do they know that we come in every shape/size/flavour, pursue every kind of career, live wide and varied and different lives? Do they really think that those vile stereotypes they trot out in the name of comedy are true, and that’s all there is to us – or do they know better and don’t care, because we don’t deserve that basic acknowledgement of equality?
There’s a famous saying of Bion’s that gets stuck in my head every time this situation arises: “Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.”
May 28, 2012 § 13 Comments
Sometimes I feel like an exceedingly weak person, that I couldn’t just suppress who I actually am and further my career by pretending to be a cis woman.
Fucked up, isn’t it, the way cissexism turns us upside down?
May 22, 2012 § 11 Comments
And by ‘funny’ I mean, well…upsetting, perplexing, frustrating, ridiculous. I’ve touched on it a little before.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the androgyny – and certainly because of the whiteness and thinness and non-visable disabilities – I know that I’m often considered beautiful by mainstream standards of beauty. I don’t know it so much in myself (thanks, terrible, terrible bullying) – but I know it from what others tell me.
And I know that, in the eyes of so many of the cis people who tell me, it utterly repudiates my being trans. And it is funny, that again and again I’m told that I’m beautiful – by people who won’t use ‘they’, and won’t accept that I’m anything but a woman – because I’m beautiful and therefore a woman, and a woman, and therefore beautiful. One aspect of my physical being is highlighted – my face, perhaps, or, again, being white and thin and able-bodied – and the other aspects of my physical being are ignored, dismissed. Easier to disregard the evidence of your own eyes, and only see what you’re comfortable seeing.
What does it say about the way cis society has vilified and othered trans people, that being trans and being beautiful are seen as mutually exclusive?
February 13, 2012 § 12 Comments
Not a long post, nor a particularly sophisticated one – but this is why I cannot stand the mainstream usage of the word “chivalry” to describe certain kinds of behaviour. You know what I’m talking about: doors opened, items carried, chairs pulled out – “it’s not sexist, it’s chivalrous”.
Well. I’ve had this argument a fair few times with friends, mostly with cis men. They can’t understand why I would be so put out by someone wanting to “help” – it’s lovely when people are helpful, surely? So, an illustration.
I have to schlep a pretty heavy electronic piano to and from most of my gigs. It’s awkward and annoying and you can’t carry it for long distances, but it’s my instrument and I’m used to it. I’m also used to helping with harpsichord transport for classical concerts – much heavier and far, far more expensive and delicate. Concert situations, so I’m usually looking (if I say so myself) pretty damn attractive. As such, I’ve had cis men falling over themselves to try to carry my instruments for me, proving how very strong and macho they are in the process. Some have literally pushed me out of a holding position so that they can replace me. Never a question of what they could honestly do to help (open doors, assist with awkward angles, clear people out of the way) but tonnes of “compliments” along the lines of “bit heavy for a pretty little thing like you” – as I may have said before, I’m average height for a man, weigh 11 stone and lift weights for fun. Many a time the man in question has struggled under the weight of said instrument and nearly dropped it – thanks guys, really.
I had an amazing gig in Edinburgh this weekend with Cachin Cachan Cachunga – I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I was also as sick as a dog and as weak as kitten (not choosing, as usual). I was desperate for some help – but, sadly, I was looking less than my best. Deathly pale and glassy-eyed and not my usual charming self. So, did any “chivalrous” cis men step up to offer their services? Of course not. Why would they? There was nothing in it for them.*
Just a brief example. I could give you so many more – as I’m sure could anyone else the world has ever read as female. But I’m just so desperate to call a moratorium on this kind of behaviour. I would consider myself a chivalrous person – because I was brought up to be kind and helpful and think of others. Not because I’m trying to prove my masculinity by infantilising and irritating “women” I find attractive.
And as a final point – never touch a musician’s instrument without asking first. It’s beyond rude.
* Obviously, the folks at the gigs were tremendous – and helpful. Thank you!
November 22, 2011 § 17 Comments
Yet another update: Just bringing this from the comments to the top of the page:
“Hi everyone, as the person who found this/wrote the warning, just to let you know all the stuff I didn’t know when I wrote it: it’s most definitely a hoax, but what is worrying is that this person offered to meet a few of the young people on the website they posted this on. For whatever reasons they want to meet them (and it’s more sinister given that it’s obviously faked), so that’s why I put the warning out there. Please share the message widely but please keep in the part about the University of Leicester not knowing anything about this. The phone number in the ad is their english department. They obviously knew nothing about it but are now aware and are forwarding anyone who calls to Pink Therapy. I emailed the uni in the states yesterday and am awaiting a response.”
Update: Thanks for the responses and reposting – all the UK trans academics and activists I know are trying to unravel this. At the moment it seems like a mash-up of different names and works, with a nasty bent to it – there’s a Dr Susan Collins on the GMC register (graduated University of Manchester in 2006), “Dreaming Gender: Restoration and Transformation” is an article by a Vittorio Lingiardi (Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 2007) – there are no links to the universities mentioned. Whoever this person is, they’ve been trying to contact vulnerable young trans people on UK LGBTQ youth forums, and offering to meet them. University of Leicester is forwarding any callers to Pink Therapy – personally, I feel that, regardless of whether this is a hoax or something more sinister, people in the target group deserve to be warned. Thanks again.
I’ve just been alerted to this by a fellow UK activist – please read and share as widely as you can:
“I just wanted to make you all aware that there’s someone out there offering young trans people the chance to get involved in a conversion therapy study. I have pasted the message this person has posted on Queer Youth Network’s website at the bottom of this message. It apparently comes from a Dr Susan Collins who claims to have links with the University of Leicester (something I’ve checked with them and they’ve denied) I’m currently awaiting a response from Clarkson University in the USA, who they also claim to be working with.
Very worrying that they’ve pretty much claimed to offer a cure to transgenderism and “to see the Christ identity restored and embraced” as well as potential funding for surgery.
The university is now investigating so please let me know if you see this anywhere else, and obviously do not respond to it. The number listed is from the University of Leicester’s English department who are aware it’s being used but have no idea why.
“Are you a post-operative female to male transsexual?
Looking for guidance and potential funding for surgery?
Pioneering new research into the advancement of Gender Restoration therapies, psychological and alternative pharmaceutical treatments to unnecessary gender re-assignment might be able to provide you with the answers, and hope in treating your condition.
We are particularly keen to hear from females aged 16 to 25 years old, as a primary group who currently identify as suffering from gender dysphoria disorders (FTM).
The research is independent and funded by a partnership of number of educational medical institutions and private medical bodies. We are hoping to recruit a sample group of between 20 and 30 volunteers who will be fully re-reimbursed for their time and all treatments and out-of-pocket expenses will be reimbursed.
Interested participants in the United States will be monitored at the facilities based at Clarkson University’s Chemistry and Bimolecular Science department,
in the United Kingdom and Europe we are exploring a partnership with the University of Leicester.
If you would like to be part of this ground-breaking study please email Dr Susan Collins – firstname.lastname@example.org – or call (0)116 252 3943
Dr Susan Collins is an award winning advocate of the women’s and transsexual rights movement and contributor to numerous social scientific programs including ‘Dreaming Gender: Restoration and Transformation’. Author of ‘Are You Sure? – Female to Male Surgery, the dangers and what you need to know.’ ‘Gender Restoration’ – To study the biblical foundation of manhood and womanhood and how then to restore them from a state of fallenness to their true image in Christ. ‘Identity Restoration’ – To recognise and renounce unreal identities including confusion in gender and sexual identity. To see the Christ identity restored and embraced.”
November 10, 2011 § 5 Comments
A question I’m asked on a regular basis. And one, according to my mother (hi mum!), that was asked of a trans man on Radio 4 this morning. Sigh. Radio 4. Leaving aside of questions of desire – who we sleep with, who we love (and why do they disregard our desires and loves?) – the symbol is drawn equating a very butch woman with a very effeminate man. Not a “real” man. So, why not be a butch woman? Here is my simple and easy to follow answer – do with it what you will.
The first and most fundamental line of ‘reasoning’ tends to be that I, and those like me, have vaginas. It’s assumed, anyway. God knows we can all tell by a casual glance at a clothed person. So – if the form’s the same, the content must therefore be identical? Close enough, anyway. But, if you’ll allow me to be a little whimsical:
I’m going to give myself the title of Person A. A musician. I’m going to pick a profession at random – a biochemist. Person B. Now, you could put person A in a lab coat and safety goggles, position them next to person B and make them look, to the untrained and lazy eye, like a biochemist. Or vice versa – Person B gets to wear a lovely frock coat, stand in front of an orchestra and sing. Except, of course, they couldn’t. Just as the only thing I could reliable be counted on to do in a lab is drop something valuable and make a horrible mess. The outside trappings don’t determine who the people inside actually are. Only character can do that – and we’re only just on the cusp of working out how that all comes about.
And, to take it further. Put Person A and Person B in matching jeans and shirts. Strangely enough, they’re still totally different people. So why is it so hard to understand that, though you assume that I, Person A, have a vagina, and Person B, our theoretical butch lesbian biochemist, has a vagina – well, that it means, oh, absolutely nothing? It probably means something personal to both Person A and Person B but, to the outside world – what does it tell us? How does it let us understand someone? It’s just not the outside world’s business.
“But Person A,” these people might say (I’m quite enjoying this, can you tell?), “who’s to say that you wouldn’t have been a brilliant biochemist, if you had been supported in the path of biochemistry, instead of seduced into the sordid world of music?” And here’s where I throw up my hands. Who’s to say why anyone is anything at all? I’m a musician because I’ve always been good at it, I’ve always loved it – it makes an intrinsic sense that nothing else comes close to. It doesn’t make me feel “happy” – it makes me whole. Because of always loving it I’ve given it the very best of me, which has only served to strengthen that love. Because of all that work, that devotion, the very nature of my brain has changed to reflect the fact that I’m musician – which it wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t loved it from the very core of me, loved it enough to devote myself to it and bring about that change. If I had been forced to work another job (and I have worked many other jobs) and been stopped from performing it wouldn’t make me good at that other job – it couldn’t make that job my vocation or my identity. Who we are doesn’t work like that. Pour different coloured water into identical glasses and the blue is still blue and the green is still green – even if their containers are the same.
Why do we ask people to justify their gender based on a randomly assigned body, when we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) ask them to justify their interests, their passions, the rest of what makes them unique?
October 28, 2011 § 6 Comments
There’s been so much already said about the 2011 Independent on Sunday Pink List that I’m a little surprised to actually find myself writing this post. So many responses, in fact – so call this a response to the responses.
Revealing my personal bias upfront: I’m friends with a few of the recipients, and one of the judges. And a cautious fan of ‘most influential lists’ in general, as a vague kind of gauge of public mood, and in the hope that someone in distress might find a sense of comfort and/or inspiration in the example of others. Full reveal: I had a pin board covered in pictures of my personal heroes above my desk as a teenager – and it helped. It helped a lot.
The List itself is far from perfect – but how often do we find perfection in a newspaper article, of all places? The LGBT community was asked to send in their recommendations – a step forward. More women in top places, more bi people, more trans people – all steps forward. I don’t believe there’s anyone there who lives openly as neither male nor female, nor anyone who is openly intersex – though the statistically likelihood is that there are intersex people there, and many people push against the barriers of rigid sex and gender roles without using words like ‘genderqueer’ to describe themselves. To my mind it’s a ‘could do better, but look how far we’ve come – congratulations in order – then back to work’.
Most public responses have been, thankfully, both polite and interesting. Some people disagree with any kind of public awards/honours lists. Some people felt that there should have been a separate list for trans people. Focus was turned on racial imbalance. Valuable critique, and considered debate – an ideal way to further discourse around social justice movements. But then that one particular type of response that seems inevitable whenever there’s a public debate in the trans community – overblown expressions of outrage, and a furious desire to pull others down. It seems to erupt whatever the topic of discussion: surgery, media representation, transgender vs. transsexual. It made me wonder what was driving it, and why we seem so resigned to it – and what, if anything, we could do it challenge it, redirect it.
There seems to be an underlying demand for perfection or nothing – a denial of the plain fact that the work for social progress stacks up layer upon layer. Incremental improvement isn’t so exciting to watch – and god knows how frustrating it is to have to repeat a message a thousand times to have it heard once – but there you have it. Tantrums don’t solve anything. And, rather than simply railing against the situation, it’s the insinuation or clear statement that those involved in gradual change, engaging with the cis majority, are traitors or sell-outs – or simply don’t count at all. Some commentators were so desperate to believe there were no trans men on the list that they ignored the really rather fabulous Jay Stewart. It’s easier to distort reality to match a desire.
From people who have, usually, an inside understanding of what it feels to be ‘othered’ and invalidated comes an attitude of belittlement and invalidation. Not only a dismissal of people’s careers, but of their personalities – and judgements pronounced on personal matters the commentator has no knowledge of. Frequently the ‘not the right kind of trans’ or ‘not trans enough’ statements – and, increasingly, the ‘privilege’ arguments. I don’t personally know a single person who has achieved success in their life without also suffering – sometimes suffering quite horrendously. I can only tell my story – so, an example. Among other things, I’m bipolar and have moderate to severe OCD. I had a breakdown at 13, have been in treatment ever since, and will continue to manage my conditions, with help, for the rest of my life. I’ve been open about this ever since I was a teenage. An anonymous trans commentator online accused me of having no understanding of mental illness and long term disabilities – knowing me, or acquainting himself with the facts weren’t as important as finding a focus for his anger. And I wonder if any of these commentators stop to think how it feels – for a rape survivor to be told they must not have suffered, for someone who has lost numerous loved ones to be told they’ve had an easy life, simply because their success has been acknowledged in a newspaper article?
Homogeneity at all costs begins to look very much like bullying. Not surprising, that so many of us would like a close and clear sense of community – not after we’re so frequently told how freakish we are, how there’s nobody else like us, and certainly nobody to love us. But when the only thing we often have in common is struggling against the cis-supremacy of our current society we’re going to be a far from homogenous group, with far from homogenous solutions to our problems. Some of the nastiness around the Pink List reminded me vividly of the abuse heaped on some young trans men who have had/are planning on having phalloplasties/metoidioplasties. Bloggers calling the results of said surgeries disgusting, posting pictures of real people’s genitals and insulting them in detail. Trans men shaming and hurting other trans men who have chosen a different answer to a difficult question with no easy solution. To come back to the article in question – living openly as trans can still be bone-crushingly hard. Every person will have a different way of navigating that path – and some will be lucky, and will be rewarded, in some measure. We cannot make homogenous what is, in essence, diverse. No amount of personal insult and attack will accomplish it.
Oh dear. I started with the clear intention of staying away from ranting, and it looks like I’ve failed. But I do want this to be more than a rant. Sometimes we need to be angry, but more often we need let our anger guide us towards something better. So, what to do?
Well, obviously, there are always going to be trolls on the internet. It sucks. There you go. But I don’t think that this is just about trolling. I think a great deal of it is to do with feelings of despair, hopelessness, conformity, fear and, perhaps, loneliness. And I think it’s always better to get something out in the open, rather than ignoring it.
It doesn’t take any more effort to build something up than it does to pull something down. Critique, debate, challenges – things that spur us on – we need these, desperately. And we need them never to be confused with abuse and blind criticism. I think, also, we need to put out what we’d want to see. So, here you go, lovely readers, a challenge for you between now and Trans Day of Remembrance (if you’ve made it this far): do something amazing for the trans people in your lives. If you know someone whose achievements have been overlooked then ask if you can tell their story – or buy them some damn flowers! Spread the word about trans history. Lend a book/take pictures/make a movie/write an article/write a letter/meet your MP/organise a movie showing/educate your cis friends/educate your trans friends/educate yourself. Whatever it is – make it unique, personal – and kind. We need a multitude of voices in this community – and we can’t let the cruellest ones be the loudest.
September 27, 2011 § 1 Comment
Simple answer, right? Say it with me – “Everyone!” Yes. Except, that for a lot of people I meet, the answer seems to be closer to “well, everyone should have the right to – but I don’t think I’d understand it. I mean, it’s not like I’m a musician. I mean, I love music, but I didn’t ever play an instrument. Well, maybe a bit. But not well enough. And I don’t think I’d fit in. What would I wear?”
Talking to people about classical music when they’re not already a fan can sometimes feel a little bit like answering straight people’s questions about lesbian sex (not that I am/have ever claimed to be a lesbian – but, what with the old XX chromosome, I have been asked an awful lot). The idea that there’s some unfathomable mystery that escapes “normal” understanding. So, when the question “what do lesbians do in bed?” is answered by “have sex” the rejoinder that follows tends to be “yeah, but it’s different from regular sex – you know what I mean. There has to be a special trick to it, right?”* It’s pretty much the same with music. I get asked a fair amount “how” to appreciate classical music – when I answer “listen” the follow-on tends to be along the lines of “but I don’t know how!” So, here’s the deal…
…It’s just the same as any other kind of music. You just open your mind and let it carry you away – in the comfort of your own home, or through the wonder of live performance. I’m not going to pretend that additional knowledge/training can’t enhance the experience – an intellectual appreciate of any subject/area of life can add another dimension to the pleasure we take from it. But many of the most instinctively musical people I know, who adore classical music, have had little to no training. There is no magic password, no special, secret club – even though there are a few, (to my knowledge) a very small number of people who would like to pretend that that’s the case. It’s not to deny that bigotry exists in the classical music world – it does, much as it does in every other social field. But that’s no reason for people to internalise said bigotry when they could be saying “fuck that” and experiencing some of the most intense, the most beautiful reactions it’s possible for a human being to feel. Ecstasy is too important for that.
So, if you’re tempted – and you don’t know where to start. Here’s option one. First – talk to a friend who knows what kind of music you like in general. And ask them to recommend a few composers/works. Go on spotify – browse – have fun with it. Composers I would recommend for a first-time listener? Satie, Ravel, John Dowland, Beethoven, Stravinsky (ballets), Tchaikovsky (ballets), Puccini, Gershwin. You could hate them all. Or you could strike lucky. I see nothing wrong in creating/buying a mixed playlist. And then – book yourself a couple of hours in. Lie down on something comfortable. Put the music on, close your eyes – and follow it out of yourself.
Option two (and oh, I’m going to be bad and self-promote here) – jump in at the deep end and book some tickets for a concert. I’ve never been to a classical concert half as intimidating as they are regularly shown to be. Even at the Royal Opera House people wear jeans. What matters is that moment of connection between performers and audience – the experience of connectivity, of being part of something larger and more important and more astounding than ourselves alone. And there is nothing quite like it. By and large, most performers will want you to experience it – because that feeling is the reason we were driven to become performers in the first place.
And for the people who say “I don’t need to listen to classical music – I already have enough musical joy in my life” – my god, what response is there? “Enough” musical joy? There’s never enough. That would be like eating nothing but chocolate cake for your entire life, oblivious to the wonders of the baking world waiting to dazzle you. No, none of that. You owe yourself more than that.
Oh, and back to the self-promotion? Well, I have a concert coming up. A very important one. You should check it out – I don’t bite, I promise. But more, you should listen to classical music. And spread the good news. More joy for all!