Friday, 30 December 2016

Who we are

A friend, Anne Yarwood,  recently asked if I would mind writing something about Surrey Swans for a web site that she has been involved with setting up.

For me, the opportunity to write this was another reminder of the way that things are changing. It was a great encouragement to meet with Anne and talk things through as part of the process of putting it together.

The article is titled Who we are and is on the Stories page of The Imagination Acts web site here.

The text reads like this:

Who we are

In 2003 a group of people began to meet at the function room of the Lion Brewery in Ash, Surrey. They adopted the name Surrey Swans. People have met there 11 or 12 times a year since then.

Those that come long are transgender or the friends or partners of people that are transgender.

I first went along in 2007 and began organising the meetings in 2011.

Why did the meetings begin? And why do they continue?

For me, the story runs something like this.

I was born a boy in the 1950’s. As a teenager, and then as I grew older, I occasionally dressed in clothing that’s generally classified as being ladies.

It was a secret. It resulted in mixed feelings. Pleasure. Guilt. Shame. Sometimes I would buy things. Other times I would throw them away.

In the nineties and noughties things were changing. Trans-related issues began to be discussed openly on WEB sites.

In 2007 I booked a makeover. It felt a bit like meeting myself for the first time. In a way, Andrea was born.

And then Surrey Swans began to make a big difference in my life. To be more precise, people at Surrey Swans made a big difference.

No longer alone. No longer a total secret. Guilt and shame giving way to self-acceptance, wellbeing and healing.

So began a journey.

Today, Surrey Swans matters to me because of the people.

It’s a place where I spend time with friends.

It’s also a place of safety, acceptance and friendship where people who are in the process of discovering themselves can meet other people that are travelling in a similar direction. People who are able to pay attention, to listen, to care, to take seriously and to empathise.

I believe that love is a kind of giving of attention, and of listening. And so, in its way, Surrey Swans is a place where people receive love.

It may be that one day there will be no need of places like Surrey Swans. That our perceived social norms will no longer result in people feeling ashamed or guilty about the way that they dress. That we won’t jump to conclusions about who people are based on stereotyped images projected by the media. We’ll understand that a person is more than the clothing that they choose to wear.

As transgendered people are empowered and encouraged by each other they are more able to go about their daily lives in a way that better reflects who they really are. Able to celebrate rather than self-recriminate.

As people and groups of people that once stigmatised, chastised and criticised learn to tolerate the transgendered. And then to accept them simply as people. And to welcome them.

Until one day, no one even notices.

And little by little this is happening. Right at this very moment.

And some footnotes:

The term transgender is broad. It conjures up other words like transsexual, transvestite and crossdresser. And more modern terms such as genderqueer, gender dysphoric and non-binary.

The same word can mean different things to different people. Different things in different countries. A word that one transgendered person identifies with can sometimes profoundly offend another person.

Here isn’t the place to discuss the precise meaning of these terms. If you’re interested in the meaning you could try here as a beginning:

In truth, as with many collective nouns, the words are open to stereotypical abuse.

The only way to begin to find out what the term means to a particular trans person is to spend some time talking with and listening to that particular person. Everyone has a unique and special story. And not everyone fits into a specially predefined category.

Having said that, of the people that I know, each in our own uniqueness, we all agree that our trans-ness isn’t about any label that tries to attach itself to us. Really, it’s just who we are.

Shop Assistants, Surgeons, Gender, Science Fiction and Artificial Intelligence

Several weeks ago a friend said that she was recently shopping in a pretty well know UK store when an assistant at the store referred to her as Sir. This, obviously, wasn’t a good experience and she recounted the incident on social media. She was surprised to be contacted by the store and was invited to meet with the store manager who offered apologies and coffee and promised to take actions to help ensure that similar incidents don’t happen in the future.

More recently I also heard of an incident where a surgeon at a hospital consistently referred to a trans patient as he even though the patient was clearly presenting as female. After the surgeon had left, a newly qualified doctor spent quite a while apologising for the surgeon’s behaviour.

There seems a strange irony in this. A commercial world where senior people are anxious to ensure that everyone,including junior workers, deals with trans people with curtesy. And a part of the National Health Service where junior doctors are left apologising for the discourtesy shown by senior colleagues.

I know that the whole gender thing can become complicated. But, a person presenting as female probably wishes to be referred to as she. A person presenting as male probably wishes to be referred to as he. This isn’t the whole story, I know. Some people prefer gender-neutral words. But it is never more complex than simply asking a person what there preference is and then having the courtesy to go along with their wishes.

I recently read a trilogy of Sci-Fi books by Anne Leckie (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy). They are amongst the most enjoyable books that I’ve ever read, so if you have a chance I recommend reading them. In the future presented by these books gender is something that is significantly less significant than it is today. People are generally referred to as she regardless of gender. People dress as they wish, regardless of gender They wear makeup as they wish, regardless of gender. And in a curious kind of way AI (Artificial Intelligence) is presented in a way that shows a potential for love that exceeds the way that people sometimes behave.