'Trans Like Me'

In the past 24 hours I have inhaled two books from cover to cover. I don't remember the last time I read a book in one sitting, let alone two!

'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race' (WINLTTWPAR) by Reni Eddo-Lodge and 'Trans Like Me' by CN Lester. I urge you to buy both and to read them one after the other like I did.

These books - both published in 2017 by Londoners younger than me - have a lot of similarities. While written from the perspective of blackness and trans-ness respectively, they hold a mirror up to those of us who see our whiteness and our cisgenderedness as so normal, so unremarkable, so 'neutral' (sic), as to not actually be worthy of our own attention. In holding up this mirror they enable us to see - if we hadn't already cottoned on! - that racism (not blackness) and the gender binary (not trans-ness) are the real problem, and help us to see how these oppressions are STRUCTURAL (and what that actually means).

Both manage simultaneously to offer an easy-to-understand '101' on (anti-)racism and gender (and, importantly, how these intersect with other forms of structural oppression such as class) and new insights for those of us who've been living and/or reading about this shit for many years.

Both provide at least a chapter of well-researched British and international history from which I learned a lot. 'WINLTTWPAR' recounts the history of racism in Britain up to and including 'Brexit', while 'Trans Like Me' includes examples of the existence of non-binary genders throughout history and (to a lesser extent - a shortcoming of the book in my opinion) across cultures.

Both authors share extensive reflections on their own intersectional feminism, and rejoinders to white feminism and trans-exclusionary radical feminism respectively.

Both also offer some practical suggestions for being part of the solution instead of wallowing in denial, defensiveness or guilt.

This week I've been thinking a lot about how when we live with structural privilege, we not only prefer to remain unaware of or actively to deny it, we also seek to discredit and close down those who stick their heads above the parapet to speak about and expose structural oppression. I had an experience of this just recently, which I'll talk about in a subsequent post.

Below are some extracts that particularly resonated with me from these books. All of the following words are direct extracts, which I have typed here not to appropriate the ideas but to encourage my friends to BUY and READ and TALK ABOUT these books.

'Trans Like Me' by CN Lester

'Any person who has had to challenge or change the sexed and gendered labels placed on them at birth to honour their true selves can, by their own or others' volition, find themselves under (the) trans umbrella... (This can be) an uncomfortable place to be, filled with the fears society has about disruption, fitting in, danger and change. It is also be a place filled with unlooked for knowledge, new experiences, new perspectives, and unanticipated joy... This is a book about gender - how we all live it, how we think about it, why we do and think what we do.'

'Learning how to talk about trans people is not difficult... you just have to reflect back the words a person uses abut themselves. Wanting to be referred to in an accurate and respectful way isn't a trans-thing... I don't call my Jewish friends Buddhist. It's the same with trans people. Use the right names, use the right pronouns, and don't fall for the line that we're too difficult for our own good... I know many cis people that are so nervous about getting it wrong that they're scared to try to get it right, but it's OK to ask.'

'Something I am sure of is that accepting people outside of the gender binary has less to do with the idea of specific non-binary genders, and a lot more to do with working away from binary thinking in general. Not every - maybe even not many - people will want to designate their own gendered experiences as being outside of the binary. But working for a less binary world would not only benefit trans people like me: we would all be the richer for it.'

'A vital point, when considering sex, is one that has been made over and over again by scientists, philosophers of science, sociologists and historians of science: that we cannot divorce a singular, unified 'Science' from the broader cultures that create and sustain it. What we observe, what we think about what we observe, how we analyse our thoughts, what we pass on to others, are all shaped by cultural forces beyond our personal control... But we do not have to be philosophers to recognise how often we are misled by our own prejudices - and use those prejudices, in turn, to mislead others... We often talk about 'biological sex' using the examples we were taught in high school, and actively refuse the need to learn more and learn better.'

'... To get access to treatment as an adult, you have to have known that you were trans since early childhood. But if you say that you're trans in early childhood, you're told that you're too young to know.'

'Being trans is often believed to cause mental illness, and mental illness to cause the belief of being trans. This becomes a way of dismissing trans people, of labelling us 'insane'... But it also prevents trans people from seeking help for genuine mental health problems out of fear that our trans-ness will be blamed, and our medical and social care withheld... It is not only that mental health care can be cut off for being trans, but also that transition-related care can be cut off for being mentally ill. Any sign that we are less than 100 per cent mentally well and adjusted - as though such a person exists - and access to hormones, to surgery, can be instantly denied... In the popular imagination any hint of queerness - inappropriately gendered behaviour - could function as a code for dangerous madness.'

'(2012 research in Toronto) found that trans kids with supportive parents had an attempted suicide rate of 4 per cent, compared with a 57 per cent rate for trans children without that support.'

'If someone loves a certain image of you - an image which misses your true self - then the actuality of who you are will never be enough.' (HD: Amen to that.)

'The idea that trans women are fake women, that trans men are fake men, is one currently playing out in schools, prisons, the legal system, public life... It is an issue frequently dismissed as a simple difference of opinions... but it is no exaggeration to say that, at its worst, this question of realness can mean life or death to the most vulnerable members of our community... Nowhere is the fight over trans realness as openly vicious as in the current battle over access to public toilets. What began as a fringe concern - the dawning realisation that trans people exist and need to use gendered facilities just like everyone else - has stormed front and centre into the mainstream political debate... At the time of writing there has not been a single reported case of a trans person attacking a cis person in a public bathroom. Ever. Public bathrooms are, however, common settings for transphobic violence.'

'As a teenager, the supposed danger of gay and bisexual people was a regular topic of school debate; the majority consensus was that any teacher suspected of being gay shouldn't be allowed alone in a room with pupils and certainly shouldn't be allowed to supervise them in PE.' (HD: At my secondary school the head of PE was a very obvious dyke. She was quite strict but hardworking and perfectly fair. Kids said she was a man at the front and a woman at the back so that she could shag herself. The parents of one of my own classmates reported her for supposedly looking at girls in the shower; I was there in the same class and never saw her do anything of the sort.)

'Trans people are far from being the only people to have learnt how to find an unrecognised, liberating truth, in defiance of the pressure to court sameness and conformity.'

'Once you have the desire to see, the tools with which to focus, locate and describe, it is hard to stop finding new ways in which humans do and have done gender... (People) assume anything that is new to us is new to human society as a whole, and that if we don't see it reflected in history textbooks and in recent memory then it cannot have existed for long. But... a strict gender binary has never been able to hold the totality of humanity - not in the past, not in the present, and not in the future.'

'Trans people who are not men or women are just as subject to transphobic discrimination and oppression as trans men and women - but we continue to be dismissed as a tiny and unimportant group of fantasists.'

'In the public imagination, most trans people are assumed to be straight. It may be surprising, then (HD: not to me!), to learn that trans people are far more likely to be bisexual, gay or lesbian than cis people are. Anecdotally we know this, and we have known this for a long time. For myself, being genderqueer and being queer are intimately linked, calling back to the same need to resist limits on who I might be and who I might desire.'

'Contrary to the story presented in the film 'Stonewall', the Stonewall riots were the bubbling up of all the injustices borne by gender non-conforming people - trans women of colour, butch black lesbians, transvestites, femmes, sex workers, queens - the queer people who suffered most from police violence and societal rejection... Without their actions the modern gay movement, the rights enjoyed by gay people, would be unthinkable. And yet even then there were cis gay people, white people, trying to exclude the trans and/or gender non-conforming activists from the movement they themselves had made... Some of our modern history is ... a masterclass in excluding the most marginalised 'for the greater good' of the most privileged'.

'Part of being trans, of being queer - not all of it, not for all people, but part - is in the reimagining of what it is to be human. These are categories forged from the failure of refusal to acquiesce to majority rule. That majority rule requires nice, clear lines and limits, and so often we, who are fighting for acceptance, will try to stick to the same in imitation. Too often, all we do in doing so is hurt our own.'

'As Audre Lorde said, we do not lead single-issue lives. The idea of single-issue movements so often has the idea of 'neutrality' at its heart; an LGB cause where LGB means cis and white, a trans movement where trans means straight and white. But none of us is 'neutral'; some of us just have less pressure, less hatred to contend with than others.'

'I need feminism. I need it not because I am a woman but because, no matter what lens the world uses to see me through, I am subjected to gender-based abuses, founded on the idea that there is one, hierarchical, coercive gender system.'

'Trans people have been denied hormones and surgery for being gay, for being bisexual, for being too fat or too thin, for not moulding themselves into white Western presentations of gender, for being disabled, for giving the 'wrong' answers to intrusive questions about sex and masturbation, for not being in fulltime employment, for being married, for refusing to change their names, and for being intersex... Some trans people have to play the long game: give cis clinicians what they're looking for so as to be able to transition, and then have the space, the freedom, to present as is right.'

'According to some people the word ('intersectional') is too long, too divisive... 'intersectionality' is just a way of trying to make white cis women feel guilty, and naming the whiteness and the cis-ness of intersectionality's main opponents is identity politics gone mad... I am unsure why this kind of (intersectional) feminist process is still being fought over by some when it is an everyday practice for many.'

'Gendered oppression is so much more than a dualistic fight between women and men, and its cruelties extend beyond one form of discrimination against one group of people. Some are hurt far worse than others, but very few of us make it out unscathed. Instead of narrowing down our feminist needs and desires, we could open them up to everyone who has ever had a need to be free of gendered oppression, gender coercion, gendered limitations.'

Please click here to read more about 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race'.