The Scope and Limits of Representation

Generally in society, we consider representation to be a good and helpful thing. It is very necessary, for example in a court case, to have someone who knows in detail the ins and outs of the legal system representing you, in order that due process is followed and any court proceedings are carried out fairly and justly.

Campaign groups are also an important force for good. They may often be asked for a quote to beef up a particular news item or story, in order to save interviewing thousands of people, it is far easier to go to one group for a quote. They have to be sure to be speaking on behalf of their members and supporters.

But, I am sure we have all experienced a news bulletin, or story, in my case as a member of three minority groups, where we have thought that, even though the organisation speaks for people in our position, it is not upholding our individual views.

This is why representation as a societal force, has scope, and limits. What is the scope, what are the limits, and what can we realistically expect of those who represent us.

The other night, I was aggrieved to see the following status on Facebook.

I don’t represent you i represent myself. I speak for my rights which benefits us all. but I am ME ONLY”

This status was posted by good friend and lovely person Drew-Ashlyn Cunningham, who fights to the death for equality and better rights for trans people, and everyone really. In my view she is a great ambassador for humanity, and for the rich diversity it encompasses.

However, at times she has been accused of “letting down the community” and giving it a bad name due to opportunities she has chosen to pursue. This is frankly absurd. 

Let us look, and look hard at some facts. Drew has a job, and therefore contributes money to the economy. Secondly, any opportunities Drew has gained, she has gained through her own courage, determination, infectious personality and drive.

She used the springboard of My Transsexual Summer effectively overcoming shyness, gaining confidence and becoming a much happier, more together person, going on to get a job at Illamasqua, where using each face as a canvas, you can see her confidence shine through every day. You can see that confidence shine through on the faces of her clients every day.

So, that is what I think of Drew, and I am sure you will agree with my sentiments. Why are people angry with her though and what are their grievances?

A point worth making is that trans men and women, and the genderqueer population do not come vacuum packed as identikit models. Indeed, looking through my own Facebook friend list, it is as rich and diverse a representation of humanity as I could reasonably hope for at this point, given my open and inclusive mindset. That diversity is therefore  no surprise to me.

But we are not all the same. Even though we have a shared (and strong) empathy due to being trans, we all lead different lives, have different backgrounds and different histories. But, that thing that unites us is indeed stronger than that which divides.

Drew can represent people regarding certain things, and so can I. Mainly, we come together when we want to make a big statement on a big issue. For example, Drew is a patron for Gendered Intelligence. I have also blogged vociferously in support of and about the trans community. The My Transsexual Summer cast have also encouraged the World Health Organisation to de-classify transsexuality as an illness by starting an online petition.

But as much as we all belong to a collective minority group, we are always, thank goodness, individuals. We have different thoughts, feelings and opinions. Crucially also, we have different lived experiences.

One of the reasons I began to blog many moons ago, was because of trans narratives I had seen. Now they had all the factual information I could want, but none of them told my story as such, with the unusual narrative and some would say, difficult marinade of disability, transsexuality and being lesbian.

So I began blogging, pouring out my story and people seemed to enjoy my outpourings. I love the freedom that blogging gives me. It can be as multi-faceted as I want it to be. In short, I set up the blog because there was nobody publicising my story, and I wanted to, not out of conceit or vanity, but to add my own twist if you like, to the myriad of stories already out there.

Representation does bite you on the arse in a political context though, as Drew has found. Sometimes too, my blog posts get people riled. It is impossible for one woman, however open minded they are, to represent the views of all trans people. Nor can she be held to ransom over people disagreeing with how she chooses to live her life. She is merely expressing her unique and beautiful self. She is not letting anyone down, as she is not responsible for every person  within the community.

As a community too, we should celebrate activists and advocates, not push them into the shadows, as the cisgendered population have done historically.

I have a theory about why people send Drew the vile and abhorrent abuse they do.

When they accuse her of letting them down, this is a red herring. In fact, they are letting themselves down, but as we know in a blighted society, it is far easier to blame others than it is to take responsibility for your own shit.

Instead of flinging mud at Drew, use her and my experience to help. If you feel your voice is not being heard, then make it heard. Start a blog or a vlog. Become active and passionate. Sign petitions. Pester people. If you want to make change, you have to be the change, not impede those people who are trying to bring it about.

Also, if we try to represent an abundance of views, we make mistakes, perhaps we express something not as somebody would have wanted. So therefore, it is better not to take the risk.

Representation does a lot of good on a global scale, but do not expect one person to represent your views. Remember we are all human and have our own shit to deal with. Also, as long as Drew is happy in her own life, no one has the right to question what she is doing, and place upon her a torrent of disapproval from chattering trans people, who do not do a lot apart from bitch from the sidelines.

It is a bit like complaining about the X Factor result when you did not vote.

To conclude then, Drew has done a lot of good for the trans community, along with the rest of the MTS cast and Channel 4.

If you feel your voice is not being heard, or your story is not being told, then it is in your power to tell it, and speak out. It is the only way. Carping achieves nothing.

Good and effective representation of the self and the whole achieves many things. You have no right to expect others to make the case and complain if you are not involved. 

People too have no right to expect Drew to be a carbon copy of them. She is a wonderful talented individual who celebrates her life.

You could be too. Whether you are or not, is up to you. Are you jealous of success or do you want to be successful?

It is not Drew who has let the community down. It is those individuals who have taken exception to her right to a personality who have let the community down. Trans women and men and genderqueer people are individuals. Drew is, I am. You are. I and Drew have fought hard for our individual true selves. You can do the same. Will you?


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