Friday began for me on Thursday night when I headed into Bristol to appear on the trans-special edition of ShoutOut. I was expecting to be talking about the Trans Day of Remembrance, but as it turned out it was more important to cover the Vicky Thompson story.
Also on the show was an extended interview with two of the show’s other trans staff: Steffi and Tara. In it Steffi is reminiscing about the days when the only support groups available to transsexuals were cross-dresser clubs. Transsexuals are people like Steffi and myself who identify as female, and who wish to transition as fully as possible. Cross-dressers generally identify as male, and perform femininity either as a hobby, or as an act of some sort (e.g. as drag queens).
Steffi tells a story about going on a trip to Atlanta with other cross-dressers and their wives. The wives, she reports, hated the few transsexuals in the group. I’m not surprised. For the most part, contact with a transsexual isn’t going to somehow infect a cross-dresser and make him want to transition fully. However, back then many transsexuals were heavily closeted and, as gay men used to do, had married because it was expected of them. Experimenting with cross-dressing was often the way in which trans women found themselves, and came to understand what they needed to do to live happy and fulfilled lives.
Also back then there was no same-sex marriage, and the gender clinics expected trans women to identify as heterosexual. Indeed they might throw you off the treatment program if you said you were a lesbian. There was no expectation that a couple of who loved each other would stay together through transition, as for example Jan Morris and her partner have done.
These days, one hopes, with kids transitioning as young as they can, this sort of issue is quickly becoming a thing of the past. People who need to transition can do so, and meeting female transsexuals should no longer be seen as a threat by the wives of cross-dressers. I hope so. We are all women, after all.
You can listen to the whole show on podcast here.
I stayed with Paulette overnight, because there was no way I was going to get to City Hall for 8:30 the following morning otherwise. The Lord Mayor duly raised the trans flag, and gave a lovely speech in favor of trans rights (thanks Clare!). She had even managed to catch up on the Vicky Thompson story. Rachel Dinning, a journalism student from UWE whom I expect to see on TV one day, recorded a lot of audio, some of which will probably find its way onto ShoutOut at some point. The lad that Rachel brought along to take photos is responsible for the picture above. My thanks to the City Council and to the Lord Mayor for making this happen. There are not many cities in the UK that mark TDOR in this way.
ITV had promised to send a reporter to cover the event. He was half an hour late (Bristol traffic is dreadful), but I knew he was coming so I was able to hang around and talk to him. I have no idea whether any of what I said was broadcast, but I hope that if it was they used the bit where I called upon David Cameron to remove Andrew Selous from his post as Minister for Prisons so that LGBT people can have confidence in the fairness of the system.
After that it was off to the Ujima offices where I was due to be interviewed by another UWE journalism student. I spent well over half an hour chatting to Richard. Some of that will eventually go on a website that he is building as part of his final year project. I’ll let you know when it is up.
There was no point in going home, so I had lunch in Stokes Croft and took in Chris Hubley’s art exhibition at Hamilton House. There is some really good stuff in there, and is free, so do pop in if you can. Doing art in this way, like being a writer, allows trans people to gain recognition for things other than being trans, which has to be a good thing.
After that I hid away in a coffee shop, fed my little electronic pals, and tried to forget about dead people for a while. I drafted a review of Cat Valente’s Radiance, which I shall post when I have stopped being scared that I have failed to do it justice.
I popped into Forbidden Planet on the way up to the University to see if they had a physical copy of Batgirl #45. That’s the one with Alysia Yeoh’s wedding in it. I’m pleased to say that they did.
And so at last we came to the main event of the day. Jamie Cross, the Students’ Union Equalities Officer, had booked the Anson Rooms for us. That’s the concert space in the Students’ Union building. It is large. We didn’t use the stage, but we used most of the floor space. The audience must have been at least 80 people.
When I first started doing TDOR events in Bristol we were about 10 people gathered around a table in City Hall (or the Council House as it was back then). Clearly there has been a huge change since then. Had I still been doing it by myself it would probably still be 10 people. The fact that it isn’t is down to two people. Firstly there is Sarah-Louise Minter from LGBT Bristol. She provided some finance so that we can have refreshments and flowers. LGBT Bristol also paid for the venue hire last year. The venue this year, and the size of the crowd, is down to Jamie. I am very grateful to both of them for allowing us to have such a great event this year.
I am also very grateful to Charlie Oxborough, the President of the University’s LGBT+ Society. She’s a languages student specializing in Spanish so she is far better qualified than I am to read the names of the dead. Getting people’s names right is an important point of showing respect.
Because in previous years I had been reading the list of names I hadn’t really got the full effect of the ceremony. Listening to Charlie really brought it home to me just how many names were on it. The list seemed to go on forever. Reading it is so much easier, at least for me.
Finally I should thank the audience, who came from over the region. Students came in from UWE, the city’s other university. Some of the Tara Hudson campaign team came over from Bath. There were people from Bristol Pride, and from various local trans groups. Perhaps most importantly there were people from Freedom Youth, the city’s LGBT Youth Group.
While Charlie and I did most of the talking, I did ask members of the audience to come forward if they had something they wanted to say. Four people did, for which I am very grateful. Again it made it much more of a community event, not just me making an exhibition of myself.
I have always felt quite uneasy leading a TDOR ceremony. That’s partly because years ago I attended one in San Francisco. There the ceremony is led by people who are directly at risk, and may even have friends on the list of the dead. That changes the tone of the whole event. Even in Bristol I lead a fairly safe life. Of the four people who came forward to speak, one walks with a stick, one uses a wheelchair, one is 17 years old, and one is just 13. They know far more of the reality of discrimination than I do.
Hopefully in another year or so there will be a thriving network of trans groups in the Bristol and Bath area, putting on events and doing political activism. Then there will be people keen to lead the ceremony themselves and they can put the old lady out to grass.
Here’s a photo from the event, which I believe was taken by Daryn Carter from Bristol Pride.