I have noticed that since I have been more upfront about my trans status, I have also become more inspired to fight for the trans community, to inform and educate and make a difference. But it has also brought home to me that there are many flaws when it comes to the come to wider society’s understanding of transsexuality and the issues that transsexuals face in everyday life.
I also want to discuss BBC Radio 1’s first foray into the realm of transsexuality, as part of Sexuality Night on The Surgery, with Aled Haydn-Jones and Gemma Cairney.
I want to start off with the first peeve of going beyond.
Now transsexuals, in common with most other human beings, value privacy and me time in their daily lives. As well as that, there are levels of friendship which boundaries are implicitly coded, if not directly explained. To give a light hearted example, I love music. Most people who know me well enough know that when they see my lovely pair of noise cancelling headphones go on, that I want some time to myself. So, because a person can see me wearing headphones, this is a visual signifier that I want peace and quiet and some me time. Therefore, you intrude upon it at your peril.
However in a less light hearted way I have noticed that people are very disrespectful when it comes to respecting the privacy of the trans community.
I had this conversation on Facebook recently. I was quite surprised by it, as they had been on there for quite a while.
“Are you a trainny?”
“But have you got a willy or a fanny?”
The conversation went on from there to basically ask how I could be a trainny (sic) with a willy, and then turned to “wot made me go like that (sic).
Enter Paris Lees, feisty trans campaigner, journalist and Editor of Meta Magazine who as I said earlier was interviewed by Aled on Radio 1. Funnily enough, in a pre- arranged question he started off the interview by asking Paris if she had a willy. In a further pre-arranged answer, she retorted by asking him to describe the size and shape of his genitals. Now, this was clever, as you would never expect this kind of question to be asked of you, much less in public.
I am here to tell you though that to be under this kind of scrutiny is a pretty regular, and sometimes even daily occurence for the transsexual.
Some of the population see us as a circus act, there for their judgement and ridicule. This kind of question that Aled asked to Paris is very indicative of the current dilemma faced by transsexuals. How open can you be and should you be about your physical and emotional self?
My advice would be more than anything to know your audience. In the majority of scenarios, I would consider these questions to be unacceptable, only needing to be asked when medically necessary, i.e. for effective treatment reasons, or when contemplating a sexual relationship with someone.
Do not forget too that many transsexuals have spent a long time giving accounts of themselves to medical professionals and others. The best rule of thumb for me would be, if you would not ask that of anybody else, do not ask at all.
Thirdly, nobody “goes” transsexual. That would be putting it in the same league as somebody going blonde or going brunette. They are not people who, fancy a change. It is a recognised medical condition and I would suggest apprising yourself of facts rather than asking inappropriate, intrusive questions that should doubtless not be asked.
On an emotional level too, these questions hurt because they bring us into contact with the very stigma we are trying to move away from. It is akin to asking you what position you had sex in with your partner last night. Blushing? Embarassed at all? Good.
If by the way you are wondering what happened to the girl, the conversation continued in a circular way for a while, but it became obvious to me she wasn’t going to get it so removed her from my list.
But fannies or willies no! There are far more interesting things to talk about than genitalia.TRANSSEXUALITY,SEXUALITY AND GENDER: ONE IN THE SAME?
There was a problem with the placement of transsexuality into a “sexuality” night, since as Aled and Paris touched upon during their interview, transsexuality is not a sexuality in and of itself. As Paris said;
“Sexuality is about who you choose to go to bed with, whereas being transgendered (which is perhaps why they opted to use this term) is more about yourself and your identity really.”
But then when taken together with sexuality and Paris’ quote, it does not seem so problematic lumping the two together.
For transsexuality, sexuality , and gender, although not one in the same, are all fundamentals and bedrocks of our identity. They enable us to express ourselves as we see fit, liberate ourselves as we choose, and help us to relate to the world as we wish.
I am also very glad that the BBC and Radio 1 brought trans issues into this discussion. Having worked with them in the past, I know the BBC have a strong commitment to minority representation on all platforms, so kudos to them
GUESSING GAMES, TRANSSEXUALITY, AND IT
I want to move away from the broadcast slightly for a moment. One of the general issues that the discussion veered towards is that discourse surrounding transsexuality is in its relative infancy, compared to say coming out as gay or lesbian.
In no way at all do I want to underplay the significance of coming out as gay or lesbian since having done both (wrongly labelling myself as a gay male prior to transition and a lesbian post transition) I know how traumatic these can be, I am not trying to compare and contrast and say that one is harder to do than the other. What I am saying is that awareness of being gay, bisexual or lesbian has evolved in a way that awareness of the trans community has not yet.
A recent conversation with a friend brought this home to me.
They messaged me out of the blue one night on Faceb0ok, and told me they would never have guessed I was trans, that someone had told them I was trans, but they’d never have guessed, and that somebody had told them blah blah blah, and that they’d said don’t be silly it’s a lady. They also said I talk about my life very openly and that I’m a good role model and I was strong and courageous.
But you know the thing is, I do not blog for compliments. I blog to help people, sometimes to entertain them and sometimes to educate them.
What I am about to say falls neatly into the education category.
The first thing I would say is this. I do not like at all the idea that my identity should be in question. A well known, but sadly deceased talk jock, Mike Dickin, when asked how he was, would always respond by telling callers his health was not in question. This is exactly how I feel about my gender identity. It for me is who I am, who I have been, and who I always will be. Hannah Rachel Buchanan. January 17th 1981. Whatever mistakes biology made, I was not responsible for them, but I am responsible now, and I took control at the earliest opportunity. It is like me telling someone I’d never have guessed they were gay. It is not flattering at all.
Secondly, trans women and men are just that, men and women. But the use of the “don’t be silly it’s a lady” is wrong on two levels. It implies that trans men and women are not men and women but in some kind of othered alien species type category. There is no need for a comparison between trans men and women and cisgendered men and women, because “don’t be silly it’s a lady” implies that trans men and women are not entitled to a gender or are floating off in there own category somewhere. We are all men and women in our own right, and to imply anything else is inaccurate.
The use of the word it is also problematic as it not only deprives someone of a gender but also basic humanity. People are not “it’s” they are living breathing creatures and the use of the word it to describe a person is deeply distressing and de-personalising for them.
A quick word about pronouns finally, as a standalone thing. Try, please to remember them if you can. Using the right ones makes a person feel elated. The wrong ones make them feel shit.
I however applaud Paris Lees and BBC Radio 1 for doing this. Hopefully, the next time a night about sexuality is done on Radio 1, the transgendered aspect will not be a little, tentative baby bird, but a strong confident eagle, leaping and soaring through the sky with majesty.
That is my hope, and I hope it is one that my readers share.
Paris Lees says that diversity is beautiful, and it is. It is like the most beautiful array of colours and vibrancy ever seen.
Yay for diversity. I am leaving the last words for this entry though with my former counsellor, Tina Livingstone, who has this to say in her article ‘Family Feelings’ published in full on the http://www.depend.org.uk website.
“The fundamental person was always there and remains the same. You are not losing anybody; simply witnessing the emergence of their true colours. Interests, passions, sense of humour, talents, and abilities, those qualities which comprise the person that you love will not disappear.”
Amen Tina. I knew there was a reason why I liked her. Paris Lees blog is also on WordPress at http://lastofthecleanbohemians.wordpress.com
That means transsexuals do wash then. Bad joke, I know! =) .