Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Clare is ... The goodness of people and the overcoming of fear.

Note - I thought I'd scheduled this to be posted in the distant future.  I was going to severely edit it and possibly scrap the whole thing as it was written in quite a rush and I know aspects are problematic.  I get up today and learn that my scheduling skills failed me.  So here it is!

There's a quiz online.  I posted it on facebook.

The quiz is meant to answer the question "How Transphobic Are You?"  Unfortunately it doesn't work well as some of the questions need a knowledge that most people just won't have.

One question reads:

Chelsea Manning is:

a) A gay man
b) A man who thinks he's a woman
c) A woman

Now a lot of people won't know who Chelsea Manning is - since before coming out publicly as transgender she was known as Bradley Manning and it was then that she hit the headlines as a whistle-blower; a hero or a traitor depending on which commentator you listen to.  She leaked many thousands of documents to wikileaks, revealing much about military action in Iraq and Afghanistan including the details of war crimes but also information that could feasibly become a security risk to serving personnel.  A lot of people wouldn't know the name Bradley Manning either.

If you're in America and ever watch Fox News you also have a disadvantage on this question.  Fox consistently calls her a man, "he", on March 28th called her "Bradleen", warns people not to believe that she's a woman but that "he" erroneously thinks "he's" female, and does horrible things like starting news segments about her with Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady."  But that's Fox News.  We don't see it here but must note that even the BBC News website has been known to call Chelsea Manning "he".  And the BBC is not alone.

Let's face it, the BBC quiz Pointless shows that a lot of British people can't remember the name of the current Prime Minister.  So expecting them to remember the name of an American whistle-blower is asking a lot.

Anyway, an answer came back to me.

Ah .. I have heard of Bradley Manning and now Googled .. Having Googled the name Chelsea Manning ... So actually the answer I would give relating to the gender/ sexual orientation/preference of the one called Manning is " I don't care ... It's not important to me .. About as relevant as what football team someone supports or their religion .. We are all people and so long as you dont keep harping on about it, I really don't care or mind what you do to live, thrive and survive"

On the face of it that sounds wonderful.   And it is wonderful that gender issues aren't relevant in someone's life, that it doesn't matter in the slightest to them whether someone is cisgender, transgender, or whatevergender.  It's good to hear.  It really is.   And I know beyond doubt that there's nothing disingenuous whatsoever in that answer.  I know that I might have caused some surprise to this person by coming out, but that I was fully accepted as Clare from day one, no questions asked.  For them it was and is truly a non-issue.  I am grateful to them and to all who think and feel in a similar way.

Yes, I really am that fortunate with my close family and with the overwhelming majority of my extended family and the great majority of my friends.

But.  I thought about it.  And saw a problem with the answer. Maybe it's not really a problem - maybe it's only a problem with the interpretation of the English language.

And I must add two little riders to my thoughts of that day.   Firstly, it's far more important that we treat each other as human beings rather than primarily as man or woman - that we treat each other as who we are rather than as what we are or as a label.   Secondly, I know the binary classifications of man and woman are much too simple to cover the entire range of humanity.  Some people would say, with good reason, that they are neither man nor woman or that they are both man and woman.

"I don't care" answers a different question.  It not being important or relevant to you is good.

But that's not what was asked.

Let's change the question to "Clare Matthews is ..."
The question doesn't ask if you care about what my gender is.  It asks whether you think of me as a man of a woman.  It asks whether you call me he or she.
Now, in your case I already know the answer to that - you've demonstrated that thoroughly in your words already.

But as someone who is misgendered regularly - and sometimes deliberately by people who refuse to call me "she" - I can tell you that this IS important.  This question IS worth caring about.

People's answer to the question governs how they treat someone like me - am I a woman, with the dignity of woman, to be treated as any other woman?  Or am I a sham, disgusting, ripe for abuse in the street?  Am I a "ghastly parody" as Germaine Greer would call me?  Am I an "abomination" as a minister called me?  Am I to be feared when I use a public toilet?   Should I be thrown out or arrested if I need to use a public changing room?  Am I still he?  Or am I an "it" - people have pointed and shouted out things like "Eeeugh, what is it?"

How people answer the question affects my life, every single day and it affects the lives of all those like me who are transsexual or gender queer or gender fluid or whatever else.

How people answer the question doesn't affect the way I live my life - except on the rare days that I'm so drained that I stick on trousers when I want a skirt because that's easier - but it does affect my life.

Fortunately, in the UK in 2014 most people either go with the first option - that I am a woman, or they don't think about it at all, or are too polite to say anything else.

When I came out there were few negative reactions from people I knew.  Most people said, "that's fine",  "that's good news", "you have our support", "go for it - get on with your life, be you and be happy".  Fortunately, the fears that nearly all transsexual people have about coming out are almost never reflected in the reality.  So many times we fear to take a step forward because of all the bad things that will happen.  And then we take the step.  And nothing happens.  I've watched others go through similar processes of great fear and then, in the main, great relief.

A lot of the time it is the fear that holds us back rather than the reality.  But that's not just true when coming out.  It's true in every part of our life.

One thing this last year has taught me is that fear can be overcome.  It has taught me that I am stronger than my fear and that I can do far more than I ever dreamed possible.   Swapping outward gender isn't easy.  If I can do that then what should hold me back in any other part of life.

And you too I believe are strong - stronger than your fears.  You too can overcome them and live a wider, freer life being who you are and doing who you are.   Take to heard the words of the Bene Gesserit litany against fear, from the novel "Dune" by Frank Herbert:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Or take to heart the words from the opening of "A Course In Miracles".  Simple words - but they take a large book to unpack, explain and start to experience.

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.

Herein lies the peace of God.


  1. The more I live as Angie, the less I fear. I can't believe that people don't realise that I'm not all I appear to be but - save the odd occasion when I know my appearance isn't up to the mark, or the wind threatens to part me from my hair - I'm pretty relaxed about it.

    My darling wife is completely the opposite. She fears that our children will shun her; she fears that her friends will disown her; she fears that neighbours will ridicule her. And because she fears and I love her to bits, I compromise and settle for a sort of half-life. I honestly don't know what the answer is, and I don't think it's just that I lack courage.

    Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death. Very true.

  2. It think it's harder when other people are doing the fearing because while it's hard to overcome one's own fears it's almost impossible to overcome someone else's fears.

    And unfortunately, although most people have no worries, it's still a rational fear and I do know people who have been shunned by those close to them and important to them. I know full well that I've been very lucky with friends and family.

    But no neighbour has said anything or treated me any differently and they're a wide range of people, mainly of an older generation from salt-of-the-earth working class born down a coal mine to people with very middle class attitudes. Apart from groups of teenagers nobody locally has given me any problems. But those groups of teenagers give lots of people problems.

    Wandering round Newcastle and beyond, I'm pretty much always wearing a skirt. I happen to like them! While I look far better than six months ago I don't really "pass" if anyone gives a second look. But most days nothing happens at all. People either don't notice or don't care and most call me 'she'.

    I can't say "I'm lucky" about my wanderings. I wander round the same Newcastle, the same Tyne and Wear as anyone else and pass the same sorts of people. But I can say appearance has something to do with it - both how we look and how we carry ourselves. When I started publicly dressing obviously as a woman I would get verbal abuse pretty much every time I left the house. But I didn't look good then and my confidence level was lower than that of the cowardly lion and it showed in my walk, posture, face and I suspect that was part of my problem.

    This week I lost an excuse to not join the decent gym in town. I was dragged there by a friend who wants to join and we accepted the offer of a tour. I've been avoiding it because it has an open changing area, no cubicles. While I might have no problem being there and might have every legal right to be there, at the same time I can understand if anyone was worried by my presence showering with the other women. I lost my excuse. The woman there knew from the start that I'm trans, showed us everything and said it wouldn't be a problem in any way - and that I wouldn't be the first transsexual to use the place. It's good to know that there is unquestioning acceptance in this "women's" personal space. But frustrating - I have no excuse not to join now apart from my own laziness!


Comments are welcome. But not spam and not obscenity. It's not all politeness though - religion and politics aren't banned.