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A normal transgender person

  • Posted on February 8, 2012 at 10:32 am

I have left a poem Front Page News that is part of this story. It came about after the Metro newspaper landed on commuters in and around London in September 2011, juxtaposing two headlines:

‘The £1 million man from Atlantis. Walliams completes his torturous Thames odyssey … and raises a fortune for charity in the process’

– and

‘Boy, 10, who went back to school a girl’.

It made me think: why is it so normal to swim the Thames, and why does it make you such a hero, compared with a 10-year-old who braves the opprobrium of parents, friends, family (and, under headlines now, the world) and causes a sensation? Most real heroes, when asked, say that their act was not a matter of choice, but instinct, so you judge who is most heroic here. It felt such an irony to see these two together, and quite sad too.

Since then several children have made headlines, and with immense bravery shared by their parents, have pressed forward the case for transgender identity to be normal. Not just normal, but acceptable; beyond sensational headlines, beyond despicable use of words that make trans people different, reviled or just a subject of ridicule. This has been the most difficult year of my life. It’s odd that for fifty years I have struggled with not feeling normal, and now I feel completely normal, I struggle with a society that says I have become abnormal. So I applaud organisations like Trans Media Watch who tackle the prejudice, deliberate sensationalising, or even the sheer thoughtlessness and ignorance, of journalists and editors everywhere. I wish I was one of them: I wish I was up there at the front being bolshie and noisy about being normal, and making others like me a bit safer and more accepted.

So I admire these children and their families for risking so much to be seen, to be listened to on their own terms. I know who is the heroine in the headlines.


I immediately know that the statisticians among you will say that normal has a definite meaning: the majority group in the middle of the bell curve of variance. What I mean by normal is that ‘this happens: rather a lot more than most of us know’ and that as a result, being trans is an everyday part of diversity. There are many places you can read up the stats on transgender people, intersex incidence etc., if you haven’t, just be aware that you will likely have met, maybe know, people whose transgender identity, past or present, simply isn’t apparent to you. Part of the reason for this is that it can be so difficult to reveal or fulfill a transgender personality. By doing so, you make a statement that still shocks, that so runs counter to preconceptions it tears families apart. There is no blame, there is no cause: it just happens, and because we don’t accept it as normal we have to set it apart, in case it’s dangerous or subversive.

If we all accept that there is a bit of the feminine in all men, and a bit of the masculine in all women, we are inevitably faced with the question: ‘yes, but how much’? And how much is ‘too much’? Too much for what? Our personal gender security? Even if it could be properly measured, how could we ever determine a maximum percentage for a definition of normal?

So as I watch, support, and follow the children who recently have made the front pages and the breakfast TV, my heart is with them. I wish I had known at an early age that there is a language for this, a space in life and society, and that it’s OK: you can be loved, you can express who you are and you can live a normal life. Meanwhile, I am still up against the buffers, where people can choose to be associated with me or not, on grounds of my kind or normality (‘Don’t let anyone think I’m the kind of person who finds this normal’!).

I can’t walk away from being transgender, but they can. If they can only feel safely normal by distancing themselves, they will. I am a normal transgender person – why do you feel your personal sense of gender is so betrayed? I hope these children work a miracle in the popular mind, until one day there is no media sensation, no permissible transphobia, and it is perfectly normal to love, be seen with, be a parent – as a transgender person.

Front page news

  • Posted on February 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

David Walliams swam 140 miles up the Thames for sports charity in September 2011. He did in fact save a dog on his way. The articles appeared in The Metro on September 13.

On the day a man swims the Thames
and raises a million for all those miles,
a boy, 10, goes back to school a girl.
Together, they are front page news on every seat
on trains in and out of London today.

And tomorrow, one will have a bath
and be glad he’s going nowhere except
to a fluffy embrace, be dry, warm – and will
reminisce about the day he also saved a dog,
and talk, and tell and forever be – the man
who swam the Thames.

The other has plunged into a turbulence –
white water with only his body board, and miles
ahead, so many miles, and his alone to leave behind,
in swirling judgement of parents unwilling to see
the reach of an unfamiliar stroke, of a girl
in a class of her own.

One page – picked up, picked over, passport of a morning
and tired but persistent on the journey home –
carries its stories to three million hands (and a million
pounds for the courage in a river no surprise) –
but the courage of a daughter born a boy?

Reported ignorance, condemnation, shock and taunts –
protests at ‘lack of consultation’ by the school
reflected in uncharitable commuter chat and chafe –
and the prayers of many quiet knowing hearts in stations
everywhere, who have travelled home this way before.

2011 © Andie Davidson

From the new collection Realisations.