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Transgender Day of Visibility

  • Posted on April 2, 2017 at 8:52 am

March 31 each year is TDOV: Transgender Day of Visibility. It presents a paradox to many: If I am visible, then am I noticeably trans, and is that what I want? If I am not visible, then is this not something I have attained, and why would I want to undo that? If I am visible, is that a bad thing (and for many it certainly can be), and if I am not visible, then do I owe it to trans people everywhere to show that being trans can be a strong thing, something ordinary and acceptable, even normal?

Transgender people of every kind have always existed. It is a function of human biology that we have: variation has always existed, as in every other human trait from height to hair colour. We have always been known about in ancient societies, and I suspect that it is only in later patriarchal cultures, especially those with patriarchal-theocratic religions, that we have been erased. Biology never did make male and female that clear. It made genitalia largely clear, but even there, it has always allowed a percentage of intersex ‘conditions’ at chromosomal, gene, and physiological levels, and of course at the level of gender identity too.

I consider that it has primarily been a function of fear, distaste and loathing of same-sex attraction that created the moralistic climate that became fixed in the same patriarchal monotheistic religions. I have written at length elsewhere how convoluted sexuality and gender can be for trans people. If your biggest fear is anything other than active heterosexuality, then every trans person stand accused of alternative sexuality at some stage of their lives. If you weren’t gay then you are lesbian, or you were always bisexual, and so on. What this has meant for LGBTQI people, is that what they are, has been considered to be behavioural. Hence the strongest driver in our western culture has been that trans people are morally wrong: sinful by claiming to be what they are so they can do what they do (whatever that is supposed to entail).

Danger

In 74 countries today, homosexuality is illegal. In 13 is carries a death penalty. In 17 countries, being visible is criminalised as propaganda. In many more, LGBTQ people are vulnerable to violence. Hundreds of trans people are murdered every year for being visibly trans.

In the USA today, we are seeing many battles over the so-called bathroom bills. This is legislation requiring trans people not to use toilet and changing facilities that are assigned contrary to the gender written on their birth certificates. Trans people have always existed, just as intersex people have. This presents stupidly obvious bad outcomes. Women who don’t look feminine enough are in danger. They have already been compromised. Men who look too feminine less so. Trans women who look truly feminine in proportion may remain invisible, but feel a terrible responsibility towards those who do not, and who, as a consequence will be in danger going into male facilities. After all, most sexual violence is perpetrated by males. Trans men, I believe, should make a very deliberate point of entering female facilities, with their testosterone, muscle and beards. And what of people who are naturally androgynous? The current Trump administration is already erasing LGBTQI identities by omitting gender and sexuality questions from census forms, and is endangering the welfare of LGBTQI people everywhere by removing protections from the very religious moralistic scruples that gave us this problem in the first place. As I write, a big orange bus is touring US states, after originating in Spain, plastered with it’s self-appointed right to free speech and declaring that boys are boys and girls are girls and that it’s plain biology. Its motivation is the same religious moralistic hubris, its message the same that disadvantages, erases, beats, imprisons, murders and executes trans people all over the world.

So who wants to be visible? I guess you can be discreetly LGBQ by keeping your relationship mainly indoors – but why on earth should you have to protect the screwed-up morals of a screwed-up patriarchy with a screwed-up religion? Sexuality is not a choice or simply a behaviour, so why should it be repressed? You hold religious beliefs, or inherit a culture that gave you the outcomes of that religion, and prefer to believe that sexuality is purely an ethical issue, and inherently wrong? This is the same rights issue as blowing carcinogenic tobacco smoke into the face of non-smokers.

So who wants to be visible? For very many trans people, we cannot hide what we are. Few of us have nothing to give ourselves away, whether a prominent larynx, a deep voice, hair loss, broad shoulders or big hands. We try hard to distract, to lift and train our voices just enough, dress to our shape. Many of us do, after a number of years, simply blend into our workplaces, our towns and perhaps our families, but without some interventions such as hormones and electrolysis for facial hair, and without documentation, this can be difficult. Visibility and appearance are not the same thing: being visible can simply mean ‘being known as’. And visibility has very serious downsides, from attitudes at work, employability, finding somewhere to live and someone to love. Some trans people are very out and proud, and I am glad they want to be. They, with their high visibility, prevent our erasure, but experience a lot more hassle than I do, keeping my head down. What we are is always a secret to gossip about; our bodies are never the private property that those of cis people enjoy. I would bet more people have hazarded a guess about my genitals, or what my vagina looks like, than about any of the cis people with whom I share this world. And that makes what I am, linked to sexual behaviour and preference, which links it to ‘what is right and proper’. It makes me dangerous to some, and in some circumstances.

I remember my ex-wife saying to me that we could continue together, if I could just ‘be a man’ at weekends. Visibility matters in how people treat you, and those who are associated with you.

Maybe you even feel a better employer, if you have increased your diversity quotient by having a visibly trans person on board who is not treated badly. I feel a whole lot better to have moved to a new job where the first premise is not ‘we have a new person joining who is trans; treat them with due respect’. I feel better for losing that initial baggage. I don’t mind people knowing, I just don’t want to be a protected species about whom people talk.

Erasure

Social erasure is unequivocally bad for trans people. We have always existed, it is not a behaviour, and it cannot be suppressed or repressed. It exists as a state of being alive, at whatever age we finally take courage to face it. And we should not have to face this as a decision, as something that carries threat, danger, disapproval and rejection. Being invisible does not change society or help us. Being visible is still a risky, even dangerous, thing to do. Our lives do change, not just in the relief of being ourselves, but in the loss it almost inevitably brings.

Plenty of cultures and societies do not want trans people to exist, because we inconveniently raise issues of sexuality, of male dominance and privilege, of strength and danger. ‘Strong male’ is still default, the leading formula. A man apparently turning into a woman is intrusive, a potential predator. A woman apparently turning into a man is a betrayal, and never quite as good as the real thing.

Media stories that promote celebrity trans people, or the unusual by age, are not really the stories about ordinary trans lives. They are not our representatives, and can give the wrong kind of attention from unqualified and opinionated people who feel strongly or entitled, about their inherited and uninformed cultural norms.

And so this year, as TDOV came round, I asked myself whether putting a TDOV ‘frame’ around my Facebook picture was a good thing, a bad thing, or simply a matter-of-fact thing whereby I could simply say: it’s OK to be trans.

Not invisible, just here

Maybe the strongest feeling I ever have is against religious and derivative cultural motivations that debate our existence and validity in our absence, paint us as predatory, and seek the freedom to erase, ignore and ultimately harm us all. Too many cultures without (especially) Abrahamic roots have accommodated, even celebrated, non-binary gender identities, for it not to be obvious that trans visibility is a casualty of those roots. It still threatens trans people everywhere. I am lucky to be where I am. I choose not to be invisible.

And yet by not being very visible, I also show that it is perfectly normal to be who I am, ordinary, honest, safe, loving, straightforward, loyal, kind …

Orlando

  • Posted on June 14, 2016 at 11:17 pm

It is for God to punish
says his father, and a mother
in another country says she hates
the woman her daughter
must hide in a closet
when her uncles come.

My partner wriggles her hand
free from mine, unsure
because this isn’t Brighton;
they stand at passport control
separately, just in case,
and the sun beats down.

I was lucky, he says, I did
gymnastics with the girls,
kept a low profile and learned
which way to walk home, funny
how so many I know now
were bullied at school.

A man cries in a crowd
in another language, as
thousands, and thousands of miles
apart, are together tonight
showing recognition, naming
a shared sorrow and fear.

A father leans forward
in a theatre, speaks his
objection to two girls kissing,
thinking of his daughters
the infection, not the
affection without fear.

A mother lives in fear, her
daughter’s lover shut,
a father lives in fear because
he was taught a god, and taught
his son, who beat himself, down,
Pulse racing to shoot.

People who don’t pray, pray
for the souls wrapped
around bullets, and people who do
try to forget who god punishes,
pray for mothers, not lovers;
my lover loosens her hand.

We never quite forget, as you can,
that the fear is ours, that
a touch, a kiss, is twisted out and
into disgust, our loves denied,
existence erased, or laughed off
with taught lines, from sacred places.

We are people you can make
laws about, lies about, forget
that this was another Target
entitling one breath to close
a toilet door, a cupboard, another
to extol faith, text, gun, a good son.

 

Notes:

  • Living with my lesbian partner where it’s illegal to be gay (Iran)
  • On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American-born Afghan Muslim, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. He was by all accounts himself gay.
  • Target is the second largest discount retailer in the US, which drew (largely Republican Christian) transphobic attention by disregarding state ‘bathroom bills’ requiring transgender people to only use toilets matching the gender on their birth certificates.

2016 © Andie Davidson

Rainbow dawn: love wins?

  • Posted on June 28, 2015 at 8:20 pm
#lovewins

#lovewins Friday exploded in an Internet rainbow. Every mainstream media title had its report, and the world cheer that came with it drowned for a while the dissenting voices. Rainbow backgrounds flooded Facebook faces, flags waved and people celebrated. I celebrated, and shared my feelings because after many months of debate, the US Supreme Court by a fairly narrow margin, voted to ensure equal marriage rights to all couples, regardless of gender, in all states. It really did feel like a moment in history, when rainbow fireworks shot into a dark sky to be seen unavoidably worldwide. The message wasn’t…

What about the children?

  • Posted on June 20, 2015 at 10:48 pm

OK, so there’s a lot going on in my life still. My partner and I are stepping into another phase of not so much coming out, as realising that disclosure is a complicated package. Disclosure in this case is unwrapping the fact that we are a same-sex couple from two different countries and back-cultures, of very different age, where one of us is transsexual, a matter requiring explanation in its own right. That’s difficult when I am unfamiliar with German websites that tell a clear and factual account of what trans anything or everything means. I wouldn’t want to introduce any confusion over cross-dressing and drag and how I am. I even need still to explain to people in English that half the trans spectrum is what you do and half is what you are.

My crash course in learning German from the rudiments of 30 years ago will not equip me in time to hold that meaningful sensitive conversation with the other family …

The bigger problem may actually be our age difference. We have to acknowledge our own anxieties about the distant future, because the raw numbers are unavoidable, and temper them with ‘now’, and ‘love’ and ‘kindness’. It is an interesting perspective in its own right, because I suspect we both eschew the standard expectation of ‘meet in your twenties, marry and live happily ever after’. We both start from base-points different from this, we both look at our pasts and wonder why it took so long to get where we are, and want to do or achieve so much more. What we have now in each other is much more than falling in love, and we want to do something with it, not have to worry about decades ahead, nor have to explain our unusual combination as partners. We must use our time well, and make these the best years of our lives, because they are dynamic and good.

Whatever parts of our unusual partnership cause others concern (lesbian, intellectual, mixed-age, mixed-nationality, transsexual etc.) we should have no requirement to make anyone else feel comfortable with it. This theme has run through a lot of my blog narrative from the start. I have been very open in order to avoid misunderstanding, to inform, and to head off opinionated gossip. I have been an education, and now together, we are being an education. Bugger ‘what’ we are in any aspect – we have a deep respect and love for each other, and a great ease in living together. That in itself is more than many have. But whether it’s my ‘Midas touch’ description, or last week’s disingenuous interjection in the theatre, we are always among people who would prefer us to conform to their ideals, even if they say we are not problematic.

Which brings me back to the ‘think abut the children’ phrase that gets trotted out as some kind of moral protectionism, when all it is in fact is a human shield against adult prejudice and fixity. Whether the concern is about gender or sexuality, it matters for all those transgender and transsexual children whose status is at last being understood, and all those children who are educated and informed enough to know that being born non-heterosexual is not immoral. Gender and sexuality are not acquired and are non-contagious. People who are non-cis-heteronormative are not a movement or a lobby and we do not undermine society. And yet we are compared to nuclear weapons, blamed for earthquakes, and for violence in society through undermining the moral fabric. We are not actually liked for being the way we were born, because we challenge cultural ideals.

We are not the children our parents thought we were, so often. They, who were once children too, acquired an idea of what would make them ‘successful’ and applauded parents, and we may disappoint them. If we are very young, we place them in an awkward position with other parents and with their own parents and friends. If we are adult, we challenge their expectations of being proud parents, or perhaps grandparents. The core message to all of us is that we must listen to children and not assume we are right and they are too young to know. Further, that by impressing our negative views on them about sexuality and gender being a lifestyle choice, we are suppressing the truth and risk making them repressed as individuals. Children need no protection against same-sex couples, nor against transgender people. They need to know, so that they don’t repeat the same prejudice and fear, and are free to find their authentic selves. Only by doing so can they grow up as whole people, without the struggles that I and my partner are still facing as mature adults in family, peer circles and society at large.

An inconvenient truth

  • Posted on June 18, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Congratulations! You’re the subject of my blog this week! 12,000 page reads a month; that means you’re almost famous! But don’t worry; sorry, what’s your name? (Just so I don’t get it wrong.)

Things you wished you could have said. Or I could have just said ‘hakuna matata’. We were sitting in the interval at The Lion King in London. Yes, sharing a little affection, but not so totally engrossed, if you understand. It was a celebration day out for being together six months and for having moved in completely together at last. A kiss didn’t seem amiss in the circumstances.

‘Excuse me ladies, but can you cut it out?’ came from behind, followed by the usual ‘I’ve got nothing against it personally, I don’t have a problem with it’ (of course not), ‘but there are two nine year old girls here.’

We were both quite taken aback. I’ve had direct abuse and objection both as trans, and as a woman, and I guess I hadn’t expected, after everything I’ve been through, objection to being openly lesbian. Surely times have moved on? What annoyed me most was not being able to have the conversation – like ‘maybe your daughter or her friend will come out as lesbian when they’re older, and need to know it’s normal?’, or: ’But you do have a problem with “it”, don’t you? Why is that?’. I really don’t understand why love and affection between women is immediately perceived by some as some display of kinky sex, or perversion, especially when media, films and the Internet are sexualised in so many less tasteful ways. Who needs protecting from two women kissing, when kissing between different-sex people is everywhere and OK?

God knows what he would have said if I had replied: ‘It’s OK, I used to be a man!’

The show was absolutely brilliant. The lionesses triumphed over evil, and well, it was ‘pride on stage’, wasn’t it! But that little interjection tainted our day a bit, and made us think. We had just watched a street performer in union jack underpants give a suggestive performance constructed around his unique ability to be sandwiched between two beds of nails whilst a beefy man from his audience stood on top of him. What about the children?!

Love between people of the same sex (or gender) is probably encoded before birth, according to familial-trait research published last November, so if anything, we are an education in the way things are, and by being open, others will know that it is natural and OK to love someone of the same sex and/or gender.

This same point was made in a mainstream news article this week by a lesbian teacher – or rather a teacher who is lesbian. She learned that hiding her sexuality was not just an invitation to gossip among colleagues and students, but had led to direct discrimination resulting in loss of a job, when she refused to effectively renounce her sexuality. (She was asked directly to behave ‘less lesbian’, despite being of the very femme variety.) Her realisation, while helping to make a documentary, was to understand that being open was an education and an enabler to colleagues and students alike: it is OK to be LGBT.

Today an article circulated about a town in Baltimore, where the local residents have written to a woman who had a rainbow-coloured display in her garden (yard) saying that it was too gay: ‘this is a Christian area and there are children’. I am still unclear about the children argument: are these people worried about corruption? Or that LGBT natures are contagious? Or that we are perverted, predatory even? This latter ‘fear’ lies behind the US ‘bathroom bills’ and gender-policing of loos. The result last week was a cis woman in the US suing a company for being roughly ejected from a ladies’ loos by a security man (yes, in the ladies’ loos) because she looked too masculine or butch.

No good can come from this objection to LGBT people being open.

Why do we have ‘closets’ at all? Why do LGBT people live in them? If your minority identity is race, you can’t hide it, you have to live with it (and any prejudice) and suffer with it, forcing society ultimately to come to terms with racial diversity. Sexual diversity has found greater acceptance, but unlike race, people can still say ‘be what you like so long as you do it in private’, as if being LGBTQIA… is shameful. It is not! Consequently, trans people top the league in attempted and successful suicide rates. People dare not ‘come out’ for fear of livelihoods, loss of family, social status, even their lives.

Closer to home, I know that I may be acceptable in appearance, but that I am nonetheless noticeably different. I cannot pretend not to have trans history, and therefore there are times (such as ‘meet the parents’) where I need it to be known that I am trans and that it’s OK. Also, I have no intention of avoiding holding hands or kissing as a lesbian woman, just to save upsetting someone else who would not be upset by a hetero couple doing the same.

One morning we were saying goodbye on our ways to work, with a hug and a kiss on the street corner. A young woman came by, murmured her approval, then turned back and smiled and said how sweet we were. Now that’s nice; that’s kind; that’s real.