We Need Allies: A Day in Transgender Remembrance
I attended the International Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Brighton with my best friend on the 21st of November. I went with the full intent to write about it, and then spent the entire afternoon afterwards in my shellshocked, harrowed-out daze, wondering what the hell to say.
There are a couple of things I’d like to get out of the way first. Firstly, some readers may be aware, others aren’t – I’m transgendered. I’m a guy with non-factory-standard genitals. So there’s that.
Secondly, I have some privileges of my own that I want to lay down. I’m white, I’m able-bodied, I don’t have any disabilities or illnesses that anyone can see, I’m middle-class and I have a house. I do my best to work around these in how I treat people and the world around me, but I know that sometimes, they’re going to cause me to fuck up a bit. So there’s that, too.
Oh – one other thing I have: I have passing privilege, sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes. Which is great, but also a thing to consider, because then I get to have male privilege, too.
We got to the venue for the remembrance service, and I was nervous. I’ve never really been to any specifically trans-inclusive spaces – let alone a church! – and didn’t know what to expect. I was surprised! It was very welcoming, very inclusive and friendly, and the service was well thought-out. I felt as though I was on friendly territory. Which was nice.
Now: the service. What happened was, after a vigil for the loss of a member of the Brighton trans*1 community, the list of victims between 2009 and 2010 was read out. Name, age, date of death – and manner in which they were killed.
If this sounds horrifying and harrowing, let me tell you: it is absolutely nothing compared to the experience. It was so horrible. It was so hard to read, so numbingly dreadful and so damn depressing that I just burst into tears after reading my first victim’s name. She was stabbed up and abandoned in a dump. I thought, is this really the world I’m transitioning in today? Is this the reception I’m to expect from the public? Is this a true reflection of how transgender people are perceived?
There were photographs of some of the victims, too. Now, here I’m brought back to passing privilege. There is an insidious, embarrassing, totally inaccurate and highly offensive supposition in the media (that appears to have been slowly, very slowly, dying out since the 1970s) that all trans* people are trans women who don’t pass. These victims were not they. The victims whose pictures I saw were women with passing privilege. These were not the cruel media’s “favourite” sort of transgendered victim; the pantomime parody that’s miles and miles away from real trans* people and does more to inspire mockery in the public rather than righteous anger on their behalf.
This realisation served to remind me how bloody vulnerable trans* people are in the face of a society that can’t or won’t understand them. These people were the members of our community who had that enviable passing privilege that’s meant to help one lead a “normal” life (for whatever definition of “normal” you prefer). I know that when I don’t have passing privilege, I feel intensely isolated; like some inexplicable, unintelligible Other that will never be able to, say, use a public bathroom without coming under suspicion and scrutiny. The transgender experience is, whatever your level of passing privilege, a very isolating one.
There are support groups, but they’re few and far between, lost in a tide of support groups for lesbian, gay and bisexual people who also have their own unfair share of discrimination and isolation. I know I have trouble finding anything outside of London, which is where I’m not. I know it’s often quite hard to find other trans guys within accessible transgender communities (we’re outnumbered by the ladies 10 to 1 in Britain! Isn’t that interesting?) if we can work up courage enough to go at all. Many of us can’t find support in our family – quite the opposite, sometimes – and coming out to social groups often ensures the sloughing of manifestly unhelpful acquaintances.
It’s lonely. We need allies. We need allies that are close to us, and we need allies that are further away in the media and government. I mused upon this as I moistened my best friend’s shoulder at the service, and then mused upon it further as we nerded out over different sorts of tea later. I did some extra musing when I emerged, resplendent, from the bathroom and announced excitedly to her that I’d been read as male there, and she was gleeful and pleased for me. We need people like this in our lives. My friend is cisgendered and she understands. She makes the effort to understand and to support and include. She does this, and in doing so, she’s one member of the majority that will encourage others to do the same.
So, hurrah for allies. Thank god for allies within the LGBTQI community that go against the distressing trend of leaving off the “T” from the acronym, or argue with those that would claim trans women who like women to not be “real lesbians”. Thank god for allies within the feminist community who don’t agree with Germaine Greer or Julie Bindel’s frankly disgusting attitudes towards transgendered people. But perhaps most of all, I’m thankful for cisgendered allies who love and care for their trans* friends and make the effort to spread tolerance, support and understanding within the majority.
- I’m using the term “trans*” to specifically include anyone with a trans – transgender, transsexual, whoever. I’m using it as a catch-all inclusive term for those with a non-binary gender identity, regardless of status in transition or not, what or where. [↩]