Surfing the news today I found an interesting article on Paris Lees – a campaigner and journalist who topped the “Pink List” a couple of weeks ago – and read some of her story, which is fascinating. (See the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-24538594)
She started living as a woman at the age of 18 and has many “firsts” under her belt: The first Trans presenter on Channel 4 and Radio 1, the first Trans cover star for Diva Magazine, and the first Trans person to top the Pink list of the most influential person in LGBT circles. While I had heard of her I didn’t know much about her – and from the off I have to say that I am not knowledgeable at all in the Transgender area and have only read things on Paris’s Blog and other accompanying articles. The biggest concern she has is as soon as she says that she herself is Trans the same questions about sexuality and genitals are asked which as she puts it is like being introduced to a gay man to then ask does he take it up the arse.
What her rise to prominence does show though is the lack of role models for those who find that they are born into the wrong body. Paris said that she was an effeminate man before she started living as a woman and as a society we have largely, although not completely, got past the major stumbling blocks and legal restrictions of the homosexual community. I’d like to think that most people now are more tolerant of lesbian and gay people and their rights but I doubt that there is an equivalent for those living as transgender. You still hear the phrases like “Trannie” as a cover-all statement for Transgender and Transvestites and the less than appropriate “Chicks with d*cks” is sadly still used – so how can we as a society learn to stop being so rude and unaccepting of something that must be so difficult for those who find themselves living with a physicality that doesn’t match their mind, heart and soul?
Paris Lees is not militant in her approach – although she doesn’t hold back with her opinions either, and neither should she – instead she is meeting with media to discuss how this minority in society is dealt with in the mainstream press. And it is just that: a discussion. She and groups that she works with are trying to educate people and that is always the key, because the majority of sensible people understand that those who live their lives the way they were born to live them rather than what “tradition” or “society” expects of them are not a threat to any area of their lives. Just because someone is gay or lives as the opposite sex is of no consequence to you or I in our lives – this is about ensuring that we are as accepting and open as we always have been here in the UK about those who have a difference to the supposed “norm”.
Watching Stephen Fry’s heart-breaking documentary “Out There” on BBC a couple of weeks ago reminded us that the world as a whole has not sorted out itself with regard to homosexuality and there were also Trans groups on there that are persecuted for the way they live their lives. We watch a show like that and are appalled at the treatment of decent human beings as second class citizens in countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Trans people have a bigger hill to climb in many ways because it’s not about their sexuality – it’s about who they are as people, and that’s much more difficult to express in simple terms. To gain empathy in terms of love – whether you accept it or not as a lifestyle – is fairly straightforward as it is a part of everyone’s life. To try to get people to empathise with not being the person you were born as is a tough one to get across and I can almost understand the very personal questions those faced with the issue blurt out.
I cannot begin to imagine the internal battle and the decision making process that those who are born as one sex but feel they are another must go through – to try to rewrite your life completely is something that takes great bravery and strength and instead of putting obstacles in their way or making fun of them – even if you don’t mean to be cruel – is not the way forward for a progressive society as ours is here in UK. I have the utmost respect for those who are willing to stand up and be counted. In fact of the top 100 on this year’s Pink List, sixteen of that century is Transgender which shows how much progress is already being made. But like everything it takes more than laws and influence to change opinion and attitudes.
Education is a key part of this and the rise of Paris Lee and the groups she works with and publications that print her work will help to develop that understanding and empathy in society. The group All About Trans that Paris is a part of is looking to do that and you can find out more at http://www.allabouttrans.org.uk/ or on Paris’s Blog at http://lastofthecleanbohemians.wordpress.com/
Earlier this year I wrote my most successful blog on Richard Littlejohn’s cowardly attack on trans female teacher Lucy Meadows and how that lead to her committing suicide. (See http://wp.me/pJh58-hL and a very unsubtle headline) and the reason I got so many hits is because I think the idea that berating someone publicly for one of the toughest decisions she could ever face finally made the British people say that enough was enough. These are human beings and like the rest of us they are not perfect. They didn’t choose this life, but now have to make choices that will test them to the limit of their patience and courage. Don’t be like Littlejohn and make a cheap and nasty issue out of it – support these people that need it, don’t ask stupid personal questions and champion difference because that is what makes this little island of ours so brilliant. Diversity, variety and giant melting pot of ideas and lifestyles is a positive thing.