Paris Lees is a professional transgender person. How can you not know her? She went on Question Time dressed as a fucking skeleton and had great hair and just about everything good that happened in 2013 was down to her. She’s also bisexual and loves The Gays – and she’s here to talk queer rights. All hail Queen Transsexual.
Before he was Doctor Who, back when pills were meant to be proper decent, Peter Capaldi played a transsexual in Prime Suspect. It’s on Netflix, bitches. Season 3. He looked like crap. He looked pathetic. He looked miserable. His character has shit hair, shit makeup and a sheepishness that invites derision. She’s a bed-wetter in a bad wig, essentially – a transgender stereotype that, at the time, wasn’t without foundation. Raves may have been banging in the 90s, but life was no party for trans people. Luckily, tons has happened since then and tons of that was in 2013. It was a watershed for transgender and queer awareness. Yeah, I’m calling that.
A Tory-led coalition introduced marriage for same sex partners. There were a few old bigots who tried to kick up a fuss, but mainly they just made themselves look like dickheads. Like that old bitch who said gays were good at finding antiques. Or the judge who quit after realising how out of touch he was. Or Norman Tebbit, who I suspect is actually dead. They’ll all be dead soon either way. LOL.
But before you start shagging a rainbow or something, remember we’ve still got issues to deal with. You can still be queer bashed in modern Britain. Abused. Murdered. Reports of homophobic crime are down, but transphobic attacks are on the up – and take a look at Everyday Lesbophobia for a taste of homophobia with a side serving of misogyny. The press still routinely harasses trans people, and gender based bullying is rife in schools. People are still driven to suicide. The attack on Vikki Unsworth and Leanne Mahoney, punched and head-butted last January for being ‘fat lesbians’, wasn’t a one off. Nor was the suicide of primary school teacher and trans woman Lucy Meadows, who killed herself in February following months of unwanted press harassment. And, sadly, there are many more kids like 14-year-old Ayden Keenan Olson, who, following months of homophobic bullying at school, took his own life last March. You can find examples of gender based violence in each of the past 12 months.
But don’t let me put you on a downer just yet. Tireless human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell says 2013 brought progress in Britain – internationally, however, we saw a backlash: “There have been setbacks for the LGBT movements in Croatia, Uganda, India, Russia and Nigeria. In many other countries too there have been homophobic witch-hunts and mob violence.” It’s not hard to find clips online of queers being tortured, beaten or forced to drink piss. Nevertheless Peter says there are glimmers of hope, with same sex marriage being considered by unlikely countries like Taiwan, Nepal and Cuba. “Taking the long historical view, the global movement for queer freedom is progressing forward.” Backlash, he says, is a sad but normal part of every struggle for social justice: “As we make progress our enemies become ever more hateful, frenzied and determined to stop us. The rising levels of homophobia in some countries are a backhanded compliment.”
If you’re a major hypocrite, like many second wave feminists who claim to care about gender based bigotry, you could just take the piss out of transgender people. You could write something about “letting the anger flow”, that makes jokes about trans women, and then flounce off Twitter when people get angry and point out that your jokes are shit. I’m looking at you, Suzanne Moore. If you’re a really rich white lady, like SuMo’s pal Julie Burchill, you could open some champers and write something that aims to humiliate trans people for one of Britain’s oldest Sunday newspapers (to be fair, that sounds kinda fun). Honestly there’s so much to choose from.
Or if you actually give a shit about people who face gender based bigotry you could take your head out of your sphincter and use your voice to help them.
Russell Brand is an arsehole. Many of our freedoms, especially gay and trans rights, came about because people pressed their MPs, challenged the courts and made their voices heard. The Gender Recognition Act, which offers trans people considerable legal protections, became law following decades of work by a handful of dedicated trans activists. You want more examples? The equal age of consent. Gay people’s right to serve in the army. And yes, same sex marriage too. Britannia didn’t just look up from a 50 pence piece and think, “Oh look, I see gay people. Let’s give them some rights!” We had to fucking fight for them.
You’re not powerless. You just need to grab some power. Put on Snap! if it helps. (It helps.) We have some hard won freedoms in this country and now we must win some for our queer refugee cousins. Tatchell says we need to press the coalition to ensure a fairer deal for gay and trans people fleeing homophobic and transphobic countries: “These people shouldn’t be held behind bars in detention centres. Currently they are put onto fast track, which gives them only two weeks to prepare a case. The government has got to ensure that home office asylum lawyers and adjudicators have sexual orientation and gender identity training. The culture of disbelief against LGBT refugees must be halted.” One asylum lawyer told me that many queer refuges are so desperate they show images of themselves having gay sex to prove they are genuine.
Researcher and academic Natacha Kennedy says 2013 was OK, but there’s been better years: “The Equality Act 2010 made it easier to challenge discrimination via the courts and, in many people’s eyes, put transphobia on a footing with other forms of discrimination.” She points out that transgender people call the same sex marriage law ‘unequal marriage’ because of something called ‘spousal veto’. Sounds boring huh? It is. It’s tedious as fuck – only civil servants and politicians could have come up with it. It basically means that a married trans person can’t legally change their gender without their spouse’s permission. Trans lobbyists spent last year trying to remove spousal veto from the new marriage laws, but failed. So that’s something we’ll be fighting for in 2014. Because really, if your spouse has got beef with you changing your gender, they already have a veto. It’s called divorce.
Young Labour rep Benjamin Butterworth (yeah, it’s a totally ludicrous name) agrees there’s still work to do: “Last year was great for gay rights. The big prize of marriage was finally awarded, Alan Turing was finally pardoned, and it seems we've reached a point where gay men can be featured in the media without the fact they're gay being news.” All great steps forward, no? “But when the only lesbians on TV are Clare Balding and that one off Bake Off, basically no-one talks about being bi, and trans – what's trans again? I don't think my grandma would know what trans is, or probably even my dad. They're the big issues 2014 needs to deal with.” Trust me Benjamin, your dad knows. But I take your point.
When I was having my obligatory transgender-oh-my-God-I’m-so-depressed-I-might-kill-myself-phase as a student in Brighton, it helped to know there were legal protections for people like me. My cunt of a father still referred to me as “son” but I had a passport that said I was female. Validation’s where you find it. The real bummer, though, was getting abused in the street sometimes and then coming home to watch transgender people being humiliated on telly. Little Britain. Shameless. Family Guy. Pretty much any comedy you can name, although actual trans people are never ‘in’ on the joke. Obvs. I remember watching TV once when Loose Women asked the audience to welcome its first transgender panelist. Oh wow, I thought. Amazing. Who could it be? It was Peter Kay in a fucking wig.
That’s why, for me, the battle is for hearts and minds. It’s not against the law to be gay but our national heritage of homophobia hangs over everything we do. Fuck ‘pardoning’ Alan Turing, how about apologizing to all the other gay people persecuted by the British state who, like him, did nothing wrong in the first place? It’s about perception. Tatchell agrees: “Now that we have almost equal laws in Britain the focus has got to be on changing public attitudes and cultural values. We need to ensure that the post-Leveson press watchdog establishes an ethical code of conduct to eliminate homophobia and transphobia from newspapers and magazines.” So it’s all very well stapling your testicles to Red Square if you’re a Russian activist, but in Britain, if you want progress, talk. We could start by discussing sport. Author, psychologist and former basketball badass John Amaechi (OBE, ya got that?) says there’s no major sport in Britain that’s made a real effort to address lack of diversity: “For 2014 what we really need to see is football, rugby, cricket and every other sport looking at themselves and saying this is who we are now, this is the climate we’ve created, this is why we can’t attract women, or Asians or gay people. Until that process starts, no change can happen.”
I work with All About Trans, a project that brings young trans people face to face with media professionals. For a chat. And flirt, if they’re hot. Last year we changed more minds than decades of complaints ever did – and we’ve been funded to go nationwide in 2014. Diversity Role Models does similar outreach in schools, sending gay, bi and trans people in to talk about themselves, answer stupid questions and generally get down with the kids. They’re like queer reps, though they’re there to educate, not recruit. Frankly though, the government should legally oblige schools to challenge all forms of prejudice, not just homophobia and transphobia but misogyny, racism and religious intolerance too. Radical stuff, eh – forcing schools to protect kids?
David Cameron’s shitty web filters don’t help. “When I talk to young trans people about how they find out about themselves, it really is the internet,” says Natacha. “Companies like BT, giving parents the option to block LGBT sites with parental controls, are effectively colluding with abusive parents.” Stopping queer teenagers from seeking information about themselves is particularly depressing when you know that 99% of their struggles are due to ignorance. Natacha says we should train teachers about gender and sexuality: “As far as I know Goldsmiths is the only one that does that, and we don’t get to do it with all the student teachers.” How many teachers would understand how to support a gender non-conforming pupil?
And what about intersex kids? Those born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit typical definitions of male or female. You might have heard them referred to as ‘hermaphrodites’. Not cool. I spoke to IntersexUK’s Sarah Graham, who told me it’s still very much the dark old days for intersex people: “We must stop the on-going, non-consensual, irreversible surgeries and treatments carried out to 'normalise' healthy bodies, which causes lifelong damage.” Yes, surgeons are slicing into babies to try and make them fit neat little ‘male’ and ‘female’ boxes. It’s happening today. In this country. Maybe in your local hospital. Babies have no choice in the matter (duh) and doctors often think they know best, despite stories from adult intersex people who feel cheated and abused by the medical establishment. Families need more support. And honesty. Doctors lied to Sarah about an operation she had when she was eight – she thought she was having her ovaries taken out, believing they carried a risk of cancer. What the surgeons actually removed was a pair of testes. She didn’t find out the truth till she was in her 20s, which, as she recently told the Independent, was a majorly traumatic experience: “Once I saw my diagnosis, I felt like a total freak, like I didn’t belong, and was offered no support… I went into a massive period of self-hatred and self-destruction. Children need to be able grow up intersex if they want and parents shouldn’t be so pressured to make a decision.”
So there you have it. As ever, it’s about power. And whose voice gets heard. We need journalists to meet the people they’re paid to write about. We need the government to make schools protect queer and trans kids from bullies. We need doctors and politicians to listen to intersex people. We need immigration officers to take gay and trans asylum seekers seriously. We need the British state to apologise for centuries of homophobic persecution. We need sports bigwigs to admit they’re in the dark ages. None of this is extreme. Or impossible. Or expensive. It’s about super enlightened people like us using the magic of education to stop everyone being quite so fucking shitty to each other. What are we waiting for?