What We Learned About Trans Culture in 2014
All in all, it was a great year for the trans cause.
Once upon a time, being transgender meant someone's dad having a mid-life crisis and getting his peen chopped off for attention. Well, actually, it was never really like that, but in the public imagination it was. The stupid, stupid public and their misguided belief that it's all about being "trapped in the wrong body." The public is a basic.
Anyway, lots of awesome trans people changed the narrative in 2014 and you're going to hear all about it from me, wonderful Paris Lees, Queen Transsexual. I'm like the acceptable face of trans in the UK because I look like a woman so people are prepared to treat me like one, even though I'm common, slutty, generally a bit of a major bitch, and, for whatever reason, still have people out there in the world telling me I'm not really a woman. To whom I would present my Cosmopolitan Ultimate Woman of the Year Award—that's right: I'm not just a woman, I'm a trailblazing, Baileys-sponsored woman of the fucking year!
Anyway, nothing gets past me when it comes to all this transgender malarkey, so here it is: Here's what we learned about being trans in 2014.
THE MOST FABULOUS TRANS WOMAN IN THE WORLD
OK, so I may be trans Queen and shit over here in the UK, but I've got to start off with someone I love, who is like trans Empress over in the States: Laverne Cox. She's basically trans Beyonce or something. Look here on her Instagram. She is sooooo Bey. I love her. Trans folk love her. Buzzfeed loves her. Everyone loves her.
The reason we love her is not just because she's a successful actress appearing on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, in TIME Magazine heralding a "tipping point" in transgender awareness, or charming the pants off everyone on talk shows, but because the girl's got good chat. Her public speaking is some of the most inspiring shit I've heard, and she spends a lot of time refining her message—a message that can be boiled down to: trans people exist. Trans people matter. Trans people deserve to be loved. It's a message that more and more trans people are starting to tell, not least to themselves, but Laverne has the platform to shout it loud and proud. And she's raising awareness for trans women of color in particular, who face extreme violence and prejudice in the States. You think it's hard having dark skin in America? Try being black and trans and going about your daily business. From what I've learned from Laverne, there are plenty of extra helpings when it comes to other people serving you with their bullshit.
THE MOST INSPIRING TRANS MOMENT OF 2014
Conchita Wurst. Won Eurovision. In a dress. And a beard. It's a look. Seriously though, she looks good. Proper good. I was like, "Go on, girl!", although I wasn't sure if she was a girl or what. No one really was. Social media was full of people asking if she was a man, a woman, a bearded lady, a drag queen, or a transsexual. But it didn't really matter. As I wrote for The Guardian at the time: "Across Europe, gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people are disowned by their families, often to be beaten, humiliated, and locked away by society. Write Conchita's victory off as novelty nonsense if you like, but you'll be sniffing at the millions of people now finding inspiration in her Eurovision ashes."
THE MOSTLY AWFUL 'TRANS MUSIC' OF 2014
There was actually quite a bit of trans-themed music out over the past year, believe it or not. Some of it was, well, problematic; mainly when non-trans people decided to write anthems for us—like that time Gaga wrote "Born This Way" as a gay anthem and gay people were like, err honey, we decide what the anthems are. (And then decided that "Born This Way" was totally a gay anthem, from what I can tell.)
First up, we got Arcade Fire's "We Exist," which more than a few trans people were pissed off about, including trans punk rock queen Laura Jane Grace, who said: "It's called 'We Exist' and there is literally no signs of that existence represented. Should have been called 'They Exist.'" I see where she's coming from. But I'm gonna give Arcade Fire a pass this time because, hey, at least they tried. And the song's good.
One person I can't forgive though is Kate Pierson, formerly of The B-52's, for her train wreck of a single, "Mister Sister," which, apart from anything else, is just a really, really terrible song, sung terribly. No, really. I do hate to be personal, and I've dug deep into my heart to be generous to Kate because she really is trying to do something nice with this song, but aside from being a transgender person, I am a person with ears, and on that level I am totally offended. If you're a musician and you're planning on releasing a trans anthem, may I kindly suggest that you a) Pick a decent song and b) Run it past at least one trans person first, instead of, I don't know, calling up some gender bender you used to do coke with in the 80s and asking if they're offended by it, which they probably wouldn't have been BECAUSE THE WORLD HAS CHANGED SO MUCH SINCE THEN AND WE'RE ALL GETTING A BIT MORE CLUED UP WHEN IT COMES TO THIS TRANSGENDER BUSINESS, AS THIS ARTICLE BEAUTIFULLY DEMONSTRATES.
I would definitely download Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, though. I saw them perform it live at the Electric Ballroom last month and the crowd of (mostly) heterosexual-looking folks there were having a grand old time, moshing away and whatnot. It felt like a brave new world, to be honest, and trust me, that feel-good factor had nothing to do with the shit coke that my friend Polly may or may not have panic bought ("I just don't want to miss this special offer!") outside a pizza joint on Camden High Street. (Yes, I put in an unnecessary drug reference. What of it? Knock yourselves out in the comments, you fucking sanitary towel-munching bastards.)
THE SWEETEST LOCAL NEWSPAPER AD OF 2014
This family took out an ad in their local paper when their son announced he was, well, their son. Up until then, they thought they had a girl. And it looks like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have accepted their trans son. The times they are a-changing.
THE MOST WELL-PUBLICIZED TRANSITION OF 2014
Kellie Maloney! Formerly Frank Maloney! Former Boxing Promoter! 64! Led Lennox Lewis to global victory as one of the world's top boxing coaches! These were the factors that sent the media mad for Kellie's transition, probably because she speaks to a demographic of working-class men who may not be totally up to speed with this whole transgender thing. I don't think there was a news outlet in Britain that didn't cover Kellie's transition in minute detail and she, bless her, lapped up the attention, jumping straight onto Celebrity Big Brother. Transitioning is hard at the best of times, without having the whole effing nation gawping at you. And then nearly dying because your face swelled up during radical facial surgery. Too much, too soon?
THE MOST TEDIOUS TWITTER MICRO-SQUABBLE OF 2014
This year we discovered, mostly via Twitter, that some middle-class feminists don't like trans people because of some structural argument or something—I haven't really been able to get to the bottom of it yet to be honest, and I'm not going to bother trying. There's only two things you need to know about feminism and trans people. One: Trans people exist. Two: There is absolutely no conflict between true feminism and the push for acceptance of trans people. True feminism is about securing equal rights for women, and there is no reason why that should ever mean we have to be shitty to trans people. And that's all there is to it.
Meanwhile, over in the States, transgender advocates like Janet Mock became some of the most exciting voices in feminism, providing insightful critiques of institutional prejudice and structural inequalities.
A VICTORY IN SILICON VALLEY
Facebook changed its gender options, so now you can be Arthur or Martha or whatever the hell you like, so long as it's on their list of 54 gender identities, which includes classics like "androgyne," "gender non-conformist," and "trans woman."
I wanted them to come up with some really fucking cool gender identities, like "old slag," or "posh middle-class mom," or "Midlands rude girl on a mission," but they were having none of it. Facebook: Queen Transsexual has spoken.
SOME OF THE MOST TRANS-IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENTS
Look, I'd rather talk about celebrities and sex, but there were a few science-y things this year that are relevant to this article. So here comes the science bit.
Basically, the very first study into young trans people who were treated with hormone blockers as teens showed that they were all really happy and well adjusted with the results! Hurrah! Good for them and the doctors who helped them. If I'd had hormone blockers as a teen I wouldn't have had to suck cock for cash for two years while I paid for laser hair removal, but whatever, I'm not bitter.
You probably didn't hear about that study, though, because it's not sexy enough for the media, who would rather focus on extreme and rare cases like Chelsea Attonley, who detransitioned back to Anthony Attonley earlier this year. Anthony can do whatever he likes, of course, but the problem is that most people are so fucking stupid when it comes to transgender issues—and, in fact, so fucking stupid in general—that they may well get all of their information on trans people from the sort of shows and newspapers that covered Anthony's detransition extensively. Trust me, if lots of people detransitioned, you'd know about it. They'd have been in every newspaper and every talk show in the land. Like Anthony was.
There was also that time the Mail on Sunday full-on lied about healthcare for trans kids and teenagers, which I covered for VICE here and which was also covered in The Guardian by an angry mom here. You can't argue with an angry mom and you can't argue with me. Trans kids need full healthcare. And, in the largest ever study of its kind, we also learned that hormone replacement therapy is safe long-term. So keep taking the tablets, folks.
Oh shit, this was meant to be more science-y, wasn't it? OK, here's one for you: They're growing penises in labs now. Could be a good one for trans guys (as in "female-to-male," dumbass) one day, as the surgery to create a penis out of a vagina isn't as simple as the other way round. And I know one or two guys who used to go to this club in Nottingham who could benefit from a lab-grown dick, to be honest.
THE HAPPIEST OUTCOME FROM A NEAR-FATAL STAG GORING IN 2014
A Dr. Kate Stone from Cambridge was gored by a stag and nearly died. The press made a huge fucking deal out of the fact that she happens to be transgender, which, even though it was never a secret or anything to be ashamed of, wasn't something to focus on when she nearly fucking died. Imagine being at death's door and a tabloid calling you a "sex swap scientist." What has what is or was between your legs got to do with the price of eggs?
Luckily for Kate, she survived, and she also went on to reach a landmark agreement through the Press Complaints Commission (now reformed as IPSO) in which all the offending newspapers put their hands up and agreed they got it wrong. It won't change the world overnight, but it's a start.
IT'S IMPORTANT NOT TO FORGET ANY OF THE GREAT THINGS THAT HAPPENED
Jesus wept, there was just so much stuff that happened, I don't know. Laverne Cox got an Emmy nomination. Lea T was named as the face of Redken. Andrej Pejic announced that was she transitioning and would be known as Andreja Pejic henceforth. Fox Fisher and Lewis Hancox formed their own production company and started making films for All About Trans and Channel 4. Janet Mock released a New York Times best-selling memoir. Nikki Sinclaire came out as Britain's first trans MEP. Asifa Lahore sparked a national debate about trans and gay Muslims. Carmen Carrera did this. Laura Jane Grace fronted an AOL show on trans issues. So unless you did anything even remotely as impressive, you can't say shit about transgender people now. Step yo game up.
BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY OF ALL...
Most importantly, I had a wonderful year and got rich and famous and pissed lots of people off with my VICE column by prodding their stupid, bourgeois, pointless sexual taboos—and writing and talking about subjects that don't even have anything to do with being trans. Fancy that!
LOTS OF IMPORTANT WORK REMAINS TO BE DONE
But even more more importantly, a lot remains to be done. Just last month, Mikki Nicholson, a trans woman in her mid-30s, took her own life by stepping in front of a train. Or how about the trans woman who was drowned in a toilet? Suicide and murder claim far too many lives in our community, so while things may be looking up in the glitzy world of the media, just remember that on the street it ain't always so sweet.
And that, kids, is what we learned about being transgender in 2014. Now, who fancies a sex change?
Follow Paris on Twitter.
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