“I don’t know any trans people…”

There’s a number of different blog posts in my head I need to write but this one might be one of the easier ones to write as I’m going to say stuff I’ve said before, many, many times since I came out as trans five years ago. If you’re worried that this is a direct response to something you have said, it isn’t. This is a response to literally hundreds of comments people have made to me over the last five years and not a response to any particular person.

As someone who is fairly “out” about being a trans person, I regularly hear comments like this:
“I don’t know any trans people”
“I’ve never met a trans person before!”
“The trans people should come to more of our LGBT events!”
“I’ve never seen a trans person on campus so there mustn’t be very many”
I also get asked very basic questions about trans experiences in general (ie questions that could be answered by wikipedia), very personal questions about my own transition (which I have become adept at refusing to answer) and people questioning my insistence that there are in fact more than two trans people on campus but no I won’t tell you names or introduce them to you in order to prove that.

What I want to address in this post is the idea that you do not know any trans people. Because if you interact with more than say 200 people, you probably know at least one trans person. This is entirely consistent with you not knowing which people you know are trans and which are cis (cis or cisgender is the opposite of trans, it means someone who is okay with the gender they were assigned at birth).

I have been to many people:
“That guy in my seminar group”
“My regular customer for a coffee and sandwich”
“My presentation partner”
“My housemate”
“My friend”
“A fellow member of a society”
“My student”
“The guy I am paid to help with showers and meals”
“The only man in the fibromyalgia group”
“That cute Jewish guy on campus”
“A part time officer of my Student Union”
“A member of my committee”
“The guy who posts all those useful links to the facebook group I’m in”
“The boy I was flirting with the other night”
… All without telling any of those people that I am trans. There could be (and likely *are*) people in your life who you see often, even regularly or maybe even live with, who are trans and you don’t know it.

First thing to think about: WHY do you assume you would know if you knew someone trans?
I’m being entirely serious here.
Do you think that all trans people “look trans”? If you do, you’re wrong. We don’t. And some cis people do. Because there isn’t really a way to “look trans” – just like other people we come in all shapes and sizes. We’re of all different races, social classes, ages, genders, religions. Some of us are disabled, some aren’t. Some of us are LGB, some aren’t. We’re just as diverse as any group of people.
Do you think all trans people do or should tell the people around us that we’re trans? I’ll spin this one on it’s head for you and ask: Why should we? If I can walk through the world with people using the right pronoun and name for me most of the time, why would I jeopardise that by letting people know that my genitals (which they probably hadn’t even been thinking of up until this point) might not be or might not always have been the way they expect them to be based on my pronoun. People do start suddenly having difficulty with my pronoun or suddenly asking invasive questions about my medical history and my sex life after being told I’m trans – would you risk ruining a perfectly decent friendship like that?
For other trans people (who are not white men with lots of supportive friends and free healthcare) the risks are often much higher. Go read Engendered Penalties (UK), The Trans Mental Health Study (UK) and/or Injustice at Every Turn (USA) to get an idea of what people risk by letting it be known that they are trans. I have a huge and wonderful support system of friends and lovers around me and yet even I have been the victim of transphobic hate crimes.

Now here’s the big reason I’ve heard a lot of people cite as why there can’t possibly be any trans people in their lives who are not out as trans to them:
“But I’m a nice person! Surely no one thinks that I would misgender / insult / harm / out / fetishise / ask inappropriate questions / unfriend / etc any trans person!” Occasionally people say this after having just said something inappropriate or transphobic to me. But assuming that you actually are someone who would never ever do something transphobic… what reason do any trans people in your life have to believe that you wouldn’t?

Think about it.

Really think about it.

What do you do in your everyday life that shows that you are actively not transphobic? Do you ask people for pronouns or offer yours? Do you say “That’s not okay” when people around you make transphobic jokes? Do you help spread trans awareness by linking to information and news about trans issues written by trans people? Do you correct people who misgender famous trans people or trans fictional characters? Do you challenge policies, practices and laws that are heavily binary-gendered? What things to you actually do to make the world a slightly better place to be trans in?
If you did more of those things, maybe people would think of you as a safer person to come out to. Or maybe they wouldn’t, but you’d be helping build a world where it was safer to be trans and taking some of the burden of educating clueless people off the backs of trans people. Help make a world (or even just a bit of the world) where being trans is okay and safe and understood and maybe more people you know will come out.

Do you know any trans people? I’m pretty sure you do. But even if you don’t, you can make our lives a little easier, a little safer by actively trying to educate yourself and others about how to not be transphobic.

Advertisements

Calling all well-meaning white feminists

Signal boosting.

Left at the Lights

You may have noticed the recent surge in racist fascist behaviour, both on our streets and in our government (I say may cos you don’t seem to talk about it much) and wondered what you can do to help your non-white sisters, seeing as they are more often than not targeted by those boneheaded thugs cos of the whole patriarchal power and control dynamic thing. I know how much it bothers you when the government cuts funding to crucial services for women or forces women into taking less well paid and infrequent work owing to public sector redundancies and I commend your struggle to ensure we don’t turn the clocks back to Victorian times. I know I got a little snarky about Jane Austen but I sort of got the intention behind it and would have been a little more charitable if you at least tried to understand my perspective.

View original post 473 more words

Apparently, it’s World Mental Health Day…

…and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know by now that I have several mental health conditions. Sometimes I describe myself as “mentally ill” or “crazy”, sometimes I call my collections of symptoms “illness” or “problems” or “difficulties”, other times “conditions”. Whether I’m “ill” or not, what I’ve had to learn to live with is the fact that my mental health conditions aren’t going to go away. They can be treated, yes, managed, yes but not ever really “cured” if cured means “Not experiencing symptoms again” rather than “Knowing how to fairly quickly deal with symptoms as and when they appear and how to prevent symptoms becoming worse”. Rather than ceasing to have these problems, I just have to learn how to live with them, how to work with my brain instead of always against it and how to treat symptoms promptly to stop them from developing into something more difficult to fix. The way my brain works simply becomes my normality.

Today people are sort-of expected to tell their stories of life with mental health problems in order to “stamp out stigma”. I’m not going to, not just because it’s easy to find other posts on this blog where I have written very frankly about my experiences of life with various mental health conditions. I’m not going to because I don’t believe the approach of telling our stories to convince others of our humanity, to show that we are “just like everyone else” or to show that we are people who deserve compassion, is the best approach or even really a good approach to solving the problems of stigma, prejudice and discrimination facing people with mental health problems. It is *an* approach and one that I have participated in before and will do again but I dislike that it has for many organisations become *the* approach. Because, well, it looks good, it’s easy to arrange and free or low cost. It generates good publicity very easily…
But it also places the onus on people with mental health problems ourselves to solve the problems caused by stigma by making ourselves vulnerable to the very people presumed to hold that stigma in an attempt to change the minds of individual people. This is slow, inefficient and not good for the health or safety of mentally ill people who try to do it – especially as there is some shame attached to not wanting to do it.

People should not feel like they have to risk the possible consequences of stigma and prejudice – which range from social ostracisation, to job loss, to being sectioned – in order to do something about stigma and prejudice.
THESE ARE NOT INDIVIDUALISED PROBLEMS, THEY ARE SYSTEMIC PROBLEMS AND NEED A SYSTEMIC SOLUTION.

Part of that solution can be encouraging people to view those of us with mental health problems as people – as members of their families and communities. But that cannot be the whole of the solution.

So as my part towards building a better world for everyone today, I’d like to leave you links to (UK) organisations you can contact if you’re worried about your own mental health. No worry is too big or too small and they’ll be able to help you find local help.

SANEline

Samaritans

MIND

NHS Direct Mental Health Symptom Checker

My Normality – Life with Chronic Illness

The thing that continues to amaze me about chronic illness is the ability to get used to it. Seriously. I, and others like me, live day in day out with pain and illness and suffering that other people experience only for short periods of time, if at all. And yet, we manage and we often do much more than just manage.

And I want to try to write something about that. If only to remind myself of the strange fact that what has become my “normal” is not “normal” for most people at all and if I think I achieve very little compared to others, perhaps that says less about my abilities and more about the fact that there’s a whole bunch of stuff I have to deal with that other people rarely experience.

So, what does my “normal” feel like?
The short answer is: persistent pain and exhaustion, punctuated with sensory overload, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, sheer terror, confusion and, of course, every now and then becoming temporarily completely blind for no discernable reason. That’s my normal. It’s been normal for long enough that I sometimes forget that it ever wasn’t. It’s only actually been this way for a couple of years.

The longer answer:
Imagine being ill enough to take a day off school or work. Muscles aching, hot and cold, deeply tired and not really able to concentrate. Nauseous. Full of pain and tired and not much else. Imagine trying to “sleep it off”. Only it’s still there the next day. And the next. And the next. And… forever. Or imagine that tiredness and aching you get after doing a lot of exercise, the kind that lasts a day or two. Imagine feeling like that from walking down the street to the post box. Imagine feeling like that whether you try to exercise as much as ever or do less. Even if you barely do anything at all. Put those two together, imagine the feeling you might get if you were really quite ill but insisted on exercising a lot anyway and then that pain and tiredness never ever leaving and you might have an idea of what fibromyalgia feels like. And to me, that’s normal. Oh – and also, I feel pain whenever anything touches me – pain from resting my arm on the desk, pain when my partner hugs me, pain when my mum’s dog brushes past my leg, pain from creases in my clothes or my sheets, pain when someone taps me lightly on the shoulder. Even pain as my fingertips hit the keys of the keyboard. This is normal, this is my everyday baseline for pain – everything hurts

My autism has always made my senses hyper-sensitive – I see light brighter, hear sounds louder, smell and taste stronger than most people. So what is tolerable or even pleasant for most people can be overwhelming for me. Supermarkets and crowds upset me. My brain receives more light and sounds and smells than it knows what to do with and sometimes it just gives up all together and all I can think of is getting out – or all I can do is stand there, unable even to work out how to leave. I have my workarounds and coping methods but the basic fact of the assault on my senses and the overwhelmed feelings I get when my brain cannot take in any more sensory information is always there and always will be. My brain is set up that way.

The illness that I have that I never believed would become my “new normal” is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But it has. My sleep is disrupted by terrible nightmares of things that happened a long time ago and things that didn’t happen but might have done if things had been different. I have terribly vivid visions of awful things happening to me and the people I love. Dreams built out of memories, fears and secrets direct from my own subconscious. For a while this was happening only once or twice a month, since moving house it’s been every single night. And every night I wake up from some awful dream that I still can’t tell for sure whether or not it is real and happening now… and I find my comfort objects, breath deeply and remind myself of my name and age and what year it is, where I live and the fact that the people who hurt me are far away, the things that happened are in the past and I am safe. Then I go back to sleep until I wake up again and do it all again. I get flashbacks during the day from time to time. If I can, as soon as I realise that I’m reacting to something that isn’t presently happening, I take myself somewhere safe and explain to myself what’s going on. I can sometimes do this without crying and without anyone noticing. because it’s normal for me. It is normal for me to feel as though my life is danger, to remind myself to take a second look and decide whether or not the danger is real and to find something to ground me and/or somewhere to go to cry  and to calm down by reminding myself who and where I am. My brain is, I know, set up like an over-sensitive car alarm – it goes off at the merest hint of danger. And like that over-zealous car alarm, it’s usually wrong and that’s often apparent at the second look.

I’ve already written about my depression and that too has become “normal”. Walking with a stick has become “normal” – to the extent that I occasionally think other people are strange because they don’t have one.

I’m not sure how to end this because I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not even complaining. Just… this is what life is like for me and I’m okay with that. And if I maybe can’t do as much as other people, this should go some way to towards explaining why. How much can most people achieve when they’ve got the flu? When they’re in fear for their lives? That is my normal and I do what I do on top of living with that. So I reckon if I achieve more than just surviving, I’ll have achieved quite a lot in life.

NOTE: I am receiving appropriate medical treatment for all of the above. This is not a description of my life before treatment or what my life would be like without treatment – this is my life as i live it taking eight different medicines and counting.

Creation

This post will be a bit different from the usual fare of politics, activism and accounts of my lived experience of illness and disability. Today I am writing something for the Queer Theology Syncroblog on Creation. So, attempts at theology.

As in the week just gone, Jews all over the world have been reading the story of Creation, of a world spoken into being piece by piece by G-d over seven days and of the first humans, it would seem obvious to write about Adam – who according to some interpretations was “created male and female” and whose name I use as my Hebrew name. It would also be appropriate to write today of Lillith, who does not get a mention in the Torah but whose story of defiance and self-determination inspires and terrifies people to this day. But that’s not what I want to write about, worthy though both those subjects are. 

Instead, I am writing about bread. Yes, bread.

More specifically, the words we Jews say when we pray over our bread.


Barukh atah Adonai Elohaynu melekh ha-olam
Blessed are You, Lord, our G-d, King of the Universe
 
ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz. (Amein)
who brings forth bread from the earth. (Amen)

We thank G-d for bringing bread out of the earth. Yet any small child could tell you that bread does not grow out from the ground. One cannot harvest bread. Bread has to be made, through a long and involved process of planting and harvesting and threshing and milling and storing and mixing and baking… by people. G-d doesn’t create bread. We do.

Then why thank G-d for the bread? WE made it!
For me the answer lies the idea that G-d could, just as easily, have made bread that grew under the ground like potatoes or on trees like apples. G-d could have made bread that just sprouts up almost anywhere like mushrooms. And G-d didn’t. We should be thankful for that.
Why? Because in making bread come from the ground in shafts of wheat instead of loaves, G-d brings us humans an opportunity to CREATE something and to experience the joy and wonder of making something out of almost nothing. And with that opportunity to create, we have been incredibly CREATIVE and invented hundreds of types and variations of bread – including cakes!
Looking around, we see that the world provides us many opportunities to create – to be like G-d, in whose likeness we are formed. G-d could have created a world where nothing more was needed and nothing could be made but people like us, being so like G-d, would not be happy in a world with nothing left to create.

Other than refusing a narrative of Creation in which only G-d creates and even then only in a one-time seven-day event a very long time ago, how is taking the view that Creation is an ongoing task that both G-d and humanity take part in “queer”?
Well, for me at least, it sheds a different light on LGBTQ people’s lives and relationships. When “Creation” is understood as a joyous and holy act, the creation of relationships, families, communities and cultures can be seen as part and parcel of the holy action of creation. Just like the wheat needs care and work and, yes, love to become bread, so too do disparate people need are and work and love to form together into relationships, families and community. G-d could have create LGB communities and their cultures for us by placing us all the same part of the world but did not. It takes work, patience,care and love for a trans person and their chosen family to go through the self Creation of transition and G-d could have created a world with no trans people but did not. Whilst everyone is called to create anew and take part in bringing forth bread from the ground, LGBTQ people find ourselves in the position of being unable to ignore the call to create lives around ourselves that are uniquely ours, often without clear templates to follow. And whilst that can be frustrating (and worse) at the time, I do feel it is in many ways a blessing. And yet like the hundreds of kinds of bread and cake, our relationships and families whilst very different, are fundamentally similar to those of our heterosexual, cisgender fellow humans in that they are what we have been able to bring forth with love and care and hard work to join groups of people together in ways that are pleasing to us. And, I think, to G-d.