March 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
For LGBT History Month this year, I was honoured to be invited to speak at Oxford University – and determined to demonstrate the ways in which trans history is very far from a niche concern.
If you’re a trans person, you’re probably aware that ‘trans issues’ described by the mainstream media very rarely match up with our lived truths. What is often erased, smoothed over? The fact that this has been going on for a very long time – that things have been different, and can be different again – and that our history is necessary for our future survival.
Video and audio podcast below. I hope you enjoy.
How the Japan mass murder relates to parental murders, abortion and assisted suicide (and why the world’s been silent about it)
August 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
An absolute must-read on what the Sagamihara mass murder tells us about the dismissal of disabled people’s lives
July 5, 2016 § 1 Comment
There are some blog posts you start knowing exactly what it is you want to say and what it is you need to accomplish with those words.
This is not one of those blog posts.
Like the majority of Remain voters in the UK, I’m still struggling to come to terms with all that’s happened in the last twelve days. Like a great many of us living in the UK, regardless of how we voted, I feel like I’m trapped in some kind of satirical version of my own country: we have no prime minister, Labour politicians are eating their own at the expense of forming a genuine opposition, the mainstream media is awash with rumours, innuendo and scaremongering. Official police reporting shows a fivefold increase in racist hate crimes: community reporting suggests that the true number of attacks is far higher. Many industries, including those in which my partner and closest friends work, are considering divesting from the UK and moving their offices elsewhere. Without EU funding, and in the environment of another likely recession, I don’t know how the music industry here will survive unscathed and without major changes for the worse. Cuts to contemporary, fringe and classical arts have already taken a toll – selfishly and unselfishly, I fear for what will be destroyed next. Like many trans people, I’m pessimistic about what will happen to funding for trans-specific projects, and about the future of transition-related care in the NHS. I’m white, middle-class and a Londoner – luckier than most – but I fear for my loved ones, my interlocking and divergent communities, my students, and myself.
I was hesitant about writing this post because, in the face of what we’re facing, what do I have to offer? But, thinking through a few things which have helped, seeing what’s helped friends, benefitting from advice from those friends – I thought that anything, no matter how small, would be better than despairing and staying silent.
These are five things which have helped me over the last week and a half, and which I hope have helped me to support others. I hope they might provide some small help for you too.
1.Use social media/the internet for a specific purpose only
I put this first not because it’s the most important, but because I’m incapable of doing anything else without this foundational step. My manic depression is not usually situational but, in this instance, it most definitely is. I know I’m not the only one. Does this sound familiar: wake up, check the news, keep checking the news, check reactions, check conflicting reports, check in with your social circles, check back to Twitter, become increasingly hopeless, look up and realise that three hours have gone by, and that you’re now too low to move? I realise that this might sound hyperbolic and ridiculous to those without the tendency to this kind of cycle – but there it is. Greater connectivity to the wider world in some ways – and a greater sense of being trapped in our own heads, overwhelmed with information that feeds every anxiety and nihilistic impulse.
So I’m trying to limit myself to using the internet – any part of the internet – for a specific purpose only. This doesn’t mean ignoring what’s going on – on the contrary, I think we have a duty to keep ourselves informed and ready to act – but that there has to be an underlying reason and a goal. Writing to your MP? Check for facts and figures. Joining a campaign? Research your options. Wanting to support your friends? Check for guidelines and methods. But that endless clicking, that downward spiral of despair, serves no one. Deliberately exposing yourself to additional pain is not virtuous, and reading more and more about current and potential suffering is not, on its own, a way of combatting that suffering. Go in with a game plan – to learn, to comfort, to support, to act – and then get out.
2. Listen to those most affected and follow their lead
This one should go without saying, as should its reverse – those most affected should have no qualms about putting themselves first. But for people like me – white, British, not perceived as an immigrant (though I am) – it’s more important than ever to listen, learn and follow the lead of those who know best. Essential resources:
Media Diversified – start here
3. Break out of the echo chamber
As a trans person who frequently needs to retreat from the overwhelming ignorance and cruelty of the outside world into spaces full of like-minded people, I’m not knocking the need for ‘echo chambers’.
What I am attacking is the way in which people with more societal privilege, myself included, frequently put our own comfort over the need to reach out, communicate and challenge. Sometimes, yes, it’s too much – too dangerous, or too damaging. But not always.
When white people (again including myself) shy away from a colleague or a relative’s racism, because we don’t want an argument and we don’t want to make our own lives harder. When a difficult conversation starts, but we avoid it because we don’t want the heartache. When we boast about blocking xenophobes and racists on facebook, even though they were our friends once and we might be able to reach them over the course of an evening, offline and over drinks, if we really tried.
It’s not that you can magically change someone’s mind overnight – changing opinions takes time, exposure and, often, the sense of being self-directed. But when we abdicate this responsibility, what is it that we’re doing? Leaving the mess for someone else to clean up. Someone who has a lot more to lose than we do.
So please – have that difficult conversation. Talk to your racist aunt. Listen and talk and challenge. This is the best advice I’ve found on the topic so far. But don’t keep yourself ‘pure’ at the expense of other people’s misery.
4. Join something
In the past few months I haven’t exactly been subtle about the fact that I joined the Labour party as a Corbyn supporter. Nothing to do with a ‘cult of personality’ – simply because he’s the first mainstream politician I feel able to invest in, in an anti-Austerity, pro-peace kind of way.
That might be the right choice for you too, or it might not be – but we’re all needed, whether that’s in the main political parties, on the fringes, or in combination. In the same time it takes to send a string of tweets, we can send an email to an MP. Small campaigning and activist groups are always in need of donations and support – no matter how small, in time or money. Amnesty International always needs support for their letter writing campaigns. In you can march, march – it you can’t, there are hundreds of things you can do from home. But (terrible saying ahoy): you have to be in it to win it. There are the main political parties; there are groups like Sisters Uncut and The People’s Assembly. We all have different needs, and views. But we can all find a place to do our bit.
5. Make use of these feelings, and make them count
It’s easy to remember when the feeling has passed, and far harder to do when in the throes of depression: every emotion can be fuel for the fire of change. Even depression, even the kinds of lows that seem the very definition of stasis, can be something, can help us to change, to make change, if we want them to.
I can’t pretend to a sense of optimism, and I can’t yet begin to see a silver lining. But I know that those feelings – despondency, hopelessness, enervation, rage – can engender the kind of action that can create something to be optimistic about. They don’t have to be end states – they can be beginnings. They can be ways of being cut off, and they can also be ways of forging ahead and bridging divides.
I find that easy to remember when it comes to the personal, and hard when it concerns the wider world. But my friends have reminded me of that, post-Brexit, and have given me goals to set those feelings towards.
I’m writing this to remind myself of the fact – and in the hope it will remind you too.
Good luck – to you, to me, and to all of us.
June 1, 2016 § 2 Comments
March 16, 2016 § 1 Comment
UPDATE: It’s funded! Thank you all so, so much. Come Home will come out at the beginning of November 2016 – available on my website, iTunes, Amazon, and for free on Spotify. Hoping to do you proud.
A few things have changed since then – a few things haven’t. I have a book coming out this year – I’m (slowly) getting used to being on television, to pitching shows for national venues, to giving speeches and papers and interviews.
The things which haven’t: being trans, being a trans artist, is all too often seen as an exploitable hook rather than an aspect of self to be respected. I would rather play community shows where I’m not paid but I am heard, than succumb to the offers to appear on reality TV where I know I’d be used for other people’s profit. I don’t want to sell my pre-transition photos, and I don’t want to be reduced to a sob story or someone to be pitied. I don’t want that for myself, and I don’t want it for the message it would send about trans people, about our shared lives, the shared understanding of those lives.
But when you don’t want to play the mainstream media game, it’s harder to get your voice heard – and harder to get projects publicised and funded. I’m not saying this to ask for sympathy – far from it – but to say that, as an independent trans artist, the work I make is founded in my idea of community and, in turn, relies on my community for support. I’m not claiming to be perfect – but I’m trying my best. I know that that’s appreciated by more than a few people – and I want to give more.
New track ‘Teachers’ – live from The Colour House Theatre
Come Home is my third studio album, and my first album about love. Reviewers have called my previous work ‘atmospheric’ (The Advocate), ‘ethereal’ (Polari) and ‘achingly beautiful’ (For Folk’s Sake) – I’ve tried to be all of those things with Come Home, but rawer, realer and more vulnerable than I’ve let myself be before. We’ve recorded the music: vocals, harpsichord, grand piano and acoustic bass. Now we just have to mix, master, create the art, pay the licensing fees, put it all together and print copies.
Writing that number down is scary, to say the least – but I think, I hope, it’s possible.
£1000 is 200 pre-orders of the £5 digital download – which works out to 4% of subscribers to this blog.
£5 is how much a pint of lager will cost you at the pub around the corner from me – and my self-esteem is just good enough to assure you that you’ll get more for your money with my album than you will with a London pint.
There are other options, of course: discounted lessons (I specialise in composition and training trans voices), merch and private gigs.
You – Aether (2014)
If any of my music or writing has touched you in the past then please – take a chance on Come Home. I’m doing my absolute best to make it the best I’ve done so far. But I can’t do it alone.
My previous albums are on Spotify
You can read what my fans have to say here
Thank you for listening – in all the different ways
December 18, 2015 § 10 Comments
So, the reason posting here has been light of late is finally out in the open – my first book is set for publication November 2016, from Virago Books (Little, Brown).
I’m incredibly excited (and somewhat overawed) to get this chance. Thank you all for your support for my writing over the years – I hope to do you proud.
For total clarity: I’m (still!) not a woman – but Virago Books has always published a small number of works by male feminists in addition to their central aim of promoting works by all women (obv. including trans women). I’ve been bowled over by the team’s knowledge and support of trans issues and the need for real trans justice (including their very real acceptance of me as a genderqueer person). Feeling especially lucky to be working with my editor Ailah Ahmed from an intersectional feminist perspective. I’m still writing up, and I hope to have covered all the most pressing points – but if there are resources/points you want to send my way because IMPORTANT then I am very much all ears.
Official press release below, and links to my publisher’s and my agent’s websites.
Writing here will be light while the book is finished – but I think it’s going to be worth it. Thank you again.
Virago Press has acquired an agenda-setting title by CN Lester, a leading British LGBT activist specialising in transgender issues.
Commissioning Editor Ailah Ahmed acquired UK & Commonwealth rights to Trans Like Me: A Journey for All of Us by CN Lester from Laura Macdougall at Tibor Jones & Associates.
CN Lester takes the reader through the most pressing questions in the transgender debate, combined with a charged personal narrative of what it means to be a transgender person today. TRANS LIKE ME shows us how we are all defined by ideas of gender, whether we live our lives as he, she or they, and how we can strive for authenticity in a world which often seeks to limit us by way of labels. It also covers hotly contested topics such as the rise in referrals for gender variant children, feminism’s treatment of the trans community, and the mainstream media’s ‘trans moment’, among much more.
Virago nonfiction publishing has aimed to be at the forefront of discussions about gender identity and politics and so welcomes this title which expands our understanding of the new conversations around gender for a wider audience. Virago has always had a broad definition of what a feminist is and wants to ensure this book will reach a wide market.
CN Lester is an academic and activist who has acted as a consultant on trans issues to a broad range of organisations such as Channel 4, the BBC and the Huffington Post. They have written for New Statesmen, New Internationalist and the Feminist Times. Lester co-founded the first ever national UK group for young LGBT people.
TRANS LIKE ME: A JOURNEY FOR ALL OF US is scheduled for publication in November 2016.
Ailah Ahmed says, ‘This book blew me away by answering all the most topical questions about the new gender debate. Time magazine declared 2014 the year of the ‘Transgender Tipping Point’, and the experiences of those affected by these issues have now entered the mainstream. Virago is delighted to welcome CN Lester to the list with this ground-breaking new exploration of trans lives. TRANS LIKE ME has all the power of Living Dolls by Natasha Walter in really engaging with the zeitgeist. It is also a very moving account of what it means to be a trans person today. ’
CN Lester says, ‘So many of my formative feminist moments came through reading Virago titles – I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining them as an author. As a trans feminist, it was vital for me to find a publisher and editor who understand the broader implications of the current trans movement: how gender affects us all, how the fight for trans rights fits into a feminist debate, and how important it is to take an intersectional approach. I’m proud to be working with a team who have (quite rightly) already included trans women in their remit, and who support authors such as myself – genderqueer people, cis and trans men – who are working on issues of gendered oppression and justice. TRANS LIKE ME is, quite genuinely, a book for all of us – I’m so grateful to both Ailah and my agent Laura for believing in it.’
Laura Macdougall says, ‘I’m delighted that Virago will be publishing CN Lester’s ground-breaking TRANS LIKE ME. It’s a combination of author and publisher which I’m sure will make this a landmark publication in 2016. In TRANS LIKE ME, CN Lester helps us navigate a rapidly changing field of gender identity and debate, delving into the historical, biological and psychological concepts that inform our sense of what sex and gender are and in doing so provides an exciting new way of looking at the world.’
For more information about CN Lester and their work, visit their website at http://www.cnlester.com/ and follow them on Twitter
For US rights please contact Laura Macdougall (firstname.lastname@example.org) and for foreign rights please contact Charlotte Maddox (email@example.com).
September 25, 2015 § Leave a comment
An amazing post from a dear friend – READ!
So one of the reasons I’ve been really quiet on here in the last few months is that I’ve been being a dating columnist for SheWired, a queer women’s website based in LA. A lot of it was pretty interesting stuff despite the clickbaity format, and I liked the job, We eventually fell out over gender-neutral pronouns (I liked them, the site didn’t) and then this article for Bi Visibility Day. They were generally very nice to me despite the ideological differences, so no vigilanteism please, but here is the article that proved the final straw.
10 things bi girls wish lesbians knew about
In honour of bi visibility week, here are some things this bi girl really wishes lesbians knew about being bi and attracted to women. You could probably condense it into ‘We exist! We’re not making up our attraction to you! Please be nice to us!’…
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