Monday, 13 February 2017
Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones But Words Are Bloody Painful
44. Insult: Write about being insulted.
In my last post I wrote that I was in a privileged position in that I have never been the victim of racial abuse. Nobody has ever shouted at me in the street that I'm a white scumbag or told me to go back to my own country. I'm fortunate to be white in the UK.
That doesn't mean I possess every privilege I could ever own. Not at all. I used to be able to claim almost the entire set and for much of my life I was pretty oblivious to the issues and failed to notice how fortunate I was - and still am. But in the past four years I've lost some of my automatic privileges. Things changed.
Four years ago I would never have ticked the "do you have a disability" box. Now I do and I will continue to count myself as disabled. I've always had problems with mental health and with various social and practical skills. It turned out that many of these were related to being autistic or to co-morbidities accompanying autism. I'll have problems for life. Blessings too. Being disabled in this way is not a problem when I'm walking in the street. Nobody stares at me or points or calls out for being autistic. I'm lucky. If I had Down Syndrome or had to use a wheelchair or had some other obvious physical characteristic to mark me out as different I would, from time to time, be openly insulted for it. There are issues that have arisen now I tick that disability box but insults from random strangers are not among them.
I'm no stranger to being insulted though. At this point someone will respond by saying, "Well we've all been insulted." Of course we have! It's true. But some people always say things like that. They probably say "All lives matter" too. That's also true. Obviously. But usually in saying it we turn our backs on a very real problem. Try to explain the depths of how difficult it is for me to get through with the problems autism gives me and inevitably there will be people who respond in such a way as to take a dump on disability by trying to make out everyone is the same. Nobody would tell a person in a wheelchair, "Well we've all got tired and had to sit down sometimes." Nobody would tell a blind woman, "Well many of us have to wear glasses." But if you try to explain autism and you're not what people would label as "low functioning" then they tell you. "Well we all get anxious sometimes." "Well we all misunderstand people sometimes." "Yes, it does get a bit noisy sometimes." Save me from people who tell me that sometimes it's a bit noisy. They tell you many other things too. They remove your autism. Try to make out you're just like them and that autism is just normal life. It isn't. It's difficult every single day. Lots of people with mental health issues may get treated the same way. The person with severe depression is told, "We all feel a bit blue sometimes, so just pull your socks up and get on with it."
When I was assessed for PIP the assessor nonchalantly dismissed all my problems with anxiety and all the struggles I have - even when I look serene to the world - in getting through each day and each encounter. She said she had a few panic attacks once so there was no difference between me and her. And I was in no position to get her to understand. She might have had to carry a heavier weight than usual for a while. But I carry a ten ton load pretty much all the time and because autism is a lifelong disability I'll be carrying a load for the rest of my life. I make it look so easy. Sometimes. In effect when I was assessed for PIP the assessor removed autism from me and then assessed on the basis of me not being autistic. That's not only an insult. It's dangerous. It's heartbreaking. And quite probably it's illegal too.
That kind of thing, where the person with little or no problem tries to make out that they suffer and struggle as much as I do, is an insult. It's a result of not listening to me, not understanding, and of whitewashing my truth and making it invisible. But it's not what I want to write about this morning.
I want to write about being insulted in the street. As you may know, in June 2013 I began the process of coming out as a transgender woman. At the start of August of that year I legally changed my name. Coming out changed a lot for me. I lost some of my privileges. I admit to a large extent I'd taken them for granted. Perhaps for many of us it's only when we lose something that we realise how precious it was. Joni Mitchell sang it didn't she? "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?"
I'd spend my life living as a heterosexual. A man. Cisgender.
I possessed three big privileges. And at a stroke I lost them.
And when I plucked up the confidence to dress outside as I wanted to dress the insults happened. From strangers in the street. Even in this city of welcome in which I live.
For a while it was constant. Every single time I left the house alone wearing a skirt I would be verbally abused. Every single time. But I kept doing it. To the abusers I looked like a bloke in a frock. Fair enough. I hadn't had any hair removal treatments. [Oh God, the number of people who said to me "Why do you need it? All women get some facial hair."] I hadn't got any make up. My hair hadn't grown out. Man in a frock. It wasn't true of course. I was a woman in what is often defined as a man's body. To the abusers a man in a frock is fair play to be abused either with laughter or much worse than that. Outright hatred.
I hated the abuse. Who wouldn't? I was experiencing what others had talked about. Race hate, disability hate. But transgender hate instead. And in the experiencing I am better able to understand at least some of what others suffer and how they feel when abused for being who they are. I am glad of the insight brought by my own experience.
It was awful though. To know that leaving the house carried the punishment of abuse. It didn't matter that I could try to rationalise it and say, "I know I'm doing and being nothing wrong. They're just ignorant/fearful/foolish and I shouldn't worry about them." I told myself that all the time. I was right. But it was still awful. It hurt. There were times I didn't know how I was going to manage to continue to walk through the path of gender transition.
I did continue though, just like so many others. I don't know a single transgender person who hasn't had to fight hard to become who they already were. We should all be very proud of ourselves.
Three and a half years after legally changing my name things are different. I haven't worn make up in over eighteen months but hair removal has made a big difference. My hair grew. Perhaps hormone treatments are making a difference to my face. Perhaps not. The biggest change to my outward manner has been confidence. I walk proud in my womanhood now and can hardly imagine how I ever used to pretend otherwise.
I still get insulted in the street. But it's rare now. Mostly I "pass as a woman" or get stared at as people try to figure me out. Passing through the fire has been worth everything.
I still get surprised by the good reactions sometimes. In the autumn of last year I gathered my courage and joined a new women's choir. The first time I'd ever intentionally entered a women only space. I admit my initial surprise and continuing thankfulness. Everyone there accepted me without a single question or second thought. It's a wonderful place. It's not always like that. The second time I tried to join a women only group I was told by the organiser it wouldn't really be the right place for me as a transgender person and that I could well not be safe there. I was banned from turning up at all. Later she relented and said to come but it was too late. There was no way I was going to bother with such a space.
People say things that still take me by surprise. After forty years of living male - and thinking being trans made me a monster - it will probably take many years before I cease to be amazed at times.
A couple of weeks ago I was joking around with someone who knows I'm trans and who I know accepts me as woman. It still caught me when she said words to the effect of "I could never fancy you anyway because I'm not a lesbian!" Ignore that the sentence makes bisexuals invisible - she wouldn't do that except in joking around sentences. I was so happy. Her words just showed her total and complete acceptance of this woman with no doubt, no question, no hint of a worry.
When I am accepted like that it makes social transition worth more than gold and diamonds.
When I accept myself like that it makes inward transition a place of great peace.