Paris Lees was recently interviewed by Stephen Gray for The Pink Paper.I found the interview very galvanising and encouraging to read. In it she talks about launching new trans magazine META, as well as the trans community in general.
But there was one quote in particular, which jumped out at me when I read the piece, as follows.
Tell us, what prompted META magazine?
“There’s a new mood in the trans community and we wanted to capture that, to provide something celebratory and aspirational.”
Then, Paris goes on to say when questioned about her work on Channel 4’s acclaimed series My Transsexual Summer;
You worked on Channel 4′s acclaimed My Transsexual Summer, how do you see the role of trans people in the media developing?
“I think we’re increasingly seeing a younger, louder, less apologetic generation of trans people in the media – and that’s great. There are infinite ways to be trans but we’ve been fed the same tired standard narratives for decades now. The only story that was being told, for about 40 years, was that of the “classic transsexual”, the male-to-female middle-aged misery narrative.
“Of course, that’s a totally valid experience, which many trans people identify with, but it’s time for some fresh perspectives. Sadly, the media seem more interested in replacing the old standard narratives with new ones: so we get the “pregnant man” trope or the “child transitioner” repeated ad nauseum. These identities are almost always presented as freakish. What we really need now is for happy, healthy successful trans people to stand up and say, Hello world; I’m having a great life – what’s the problem?”
I hope as I begin this piece that I am representative of both the new mood in the trans community, not to mention the “younger, louder, less apologetic” generation of trans people to which Paris alludes. I will come back to this notion of being less apologetic later as I think I will have a lot to say. In this entry however, I want to talk about my childhood in a mismatched outside and inside, the bad mood, also my tentative steps towards transition, the good mood (good in the sense I was doing something about it) and the brilliant mood the present and recent past.
As you will see I have set this entry to music, using a soundtrack I have selected. I advise you to read with headphones or speakers on so you can feel the journey as well as read it. Seat belts on and off we go.
THE BAD MOOD
On January 17th 1981 a baby was born. They said I was curious to come and see the world. If I had known then what I know now, I would have waited until my due date.
I was born three months prematurely, so it was not exactly an auspicious start to life. I was also born with cerebral palsy which in simple terms renders me unable to walk, but in the present time, I have a real passion and zest for life.
But as soon as I became conscious of the world and my place within it, I knew something was wrong. Yes I played with cars and conformed to the social role of being a boy, but I just did not feel comfortable
Thankfully though I did get some chances to spend time around women at school. Even then though, in an almost millennial landscape, this was frowned upon. I loved my little table of friends at school, but then my tutor Mr G. ruined it for me.
Looking back, I am sure he meant well, and was trying to protect me. But truthfully and honestly you cannot protect somebody from gender dysphoria. The force is too strong, and eventually the truth will out. I just had no inclination to align to my birth sex, nor did I see why I should try.
So why is Radiohead relevant at this point?
Thom Yorke asserts in his poignant, heartfelt, gutwrenching vocal that he’s a creep, he’s a riddle, and he does not belong here. That sums up very neatly how I almost always felt in my pre-transition life. There were even times when I felt that I was trapped inside something that did not belong to me, that is to say, I could not take ownership of myself at this point, nor did I want to.
I just knew, knew, and knew even more that something was not right, and this flamer of knowledge never went out for many years.
The other resonances were the the desire for a perfect body and perfect soul. The perfect body is the simpler one to understand, for me a perfect body simply meant a walking one. A perfect soul on the other hand? How do you swap souls. With the inevitable passage of time, I have learnt that I do not need to, but all that was swirling around me at the time was a sea of confusion and mystery. I listened to Creep ad nauseum. When I listen now it reminds me of how far I have come.
Whilst still stuck in the sea of confusion, this song would have epitomised my feelings. Founded by the frontman of Slipknot Corey Taylor, Stone Stour were an even darker proposition than Slipknot and their masks.
You see, early in transition, I felt different, and really low and lacking in confidence. Now this song did not come into my life early in my transition but it is frighteningly relevant.
I had better be honest and say that the lyrics I am about to post may be triggering and painful to some, and shocking. I decided to write this entry after someone said to me that people just don’t understand what we go through.
So I feel in writing this I have to, have to be honest. I know some people will be upset by that. But my integrity is important to me.
Of course, a way round that is the classic triumph over adversity trope. This is how I was, this is how I am now, all normally boxed off very nicely into a nice slot for the reader or the viewer.
But everyone has a journey, and it is that in between journey that journalism and the media rarely addresses. The beginning and the end is ok because that warms the cockles of the heart.
But here, I am seeking to tell you, the reader, some of what we go through so you can be better informed, and if you are a trans person reading this, perhaps it will help you.
But initially, taking the song title, “Bother” I did not know why I bothered. I had been in and out of counselling since the age of 16, for emotionally abusive stepfather issues, and for other issues as well. That is what I was really. An issue.
Wish I’d died instead of lived
A zombie hides my face
Shell forgotten with its memories
Diaries left with cryptic entries
Yes there were many times when I wished myself dead, many, and many times when I could see no colour, apart f rom a relentless black. I was sent to the college doctor at 16 with depression for fuck’s sake.
You see, people always rave on about democracy. But there is no such thing as birth gender democracy. There is not.
It does not exist. Which is fine for the cisgendered majority, but for the trans minority. Now you may look at me pejoratively and suspiciously and say, “You’re born how you’re born, live with it!”.
Why though? That would be my response. Why live with a conflict between soul and body? Why live with crying yourself to sleep? Why live with suppression? Why live with double Jack Daniels at 1pm just to escape when you are at a sporty university and it is not just that you cannot be one of “the lads” because you’re in a wheelchair, as some would have it, but instead it is because you have no inclination, desire, or motivation to be something you are not.
I predict, using the best of my self awareness, that had I not acted on my gender dysphoria when I did, I would not be here now. There were many times when I too wished myself dead.
After all, why live a life that was given to you, rather than one you want to own and nurture? I was living inside a shell with a zombie instead of a human. Every day just seemed like pointless drudgery and tragedy. Why would you want that?
Where even your eyes do not want to be open. Why would you want that?
Another thing I detested was wearing boys clothes. Sorry to the boys, but men’s clothes really do not fit me at all. They are functional rather than fabulous and boring rather than beautiful. There are clothes nearer to the spanglier end of the spectrum, however it just did not sit right.
I think pre-transition, life is very hard and cruel. Mostly, the one piece of stability the cisgendered majority can hang their lives on is their gender. For them, there is no conflict between biology and Sociology. There is a truism here too. Psychologically, people deal with what they can see better.
At school, Mr G could see my wheelchair, but he could not hear the silent screams of gender dysphoria. Interestingly, a point worth making, I had had a lot of respect for him. It is never easy being the new kid, and he helped me to settle in well. But after that, well my respect for him ebbed away.
This trans narrative persisted throughout college and University too, and then came a turning point.
MAN IN THE MIRROR MICHAEL JACKSON
At my darkest time before transition, and at some point during, I knew something had to give. The turning point came when I confessed to C that I felt like a woman. To be honest, it did not exactly seem like a shock to her. So the process of disclosure went from there. It never really felt like changing a man in a mirror. It was more like becoming somebody I liked, recognised and seemed to fit me like a glove.
There’s a fantastic line in the Prologue of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. The narrator sings this.
“If you think it, want it, dream it then it’s real. You are what you feel”
That you know is highly relevant to transition. It is a slightly childish sentiment. But a useful one. You have to dream to believe transition can happen for you. That it is not some external thing, or an unreachable star. It is possible for anyone, if it is a path they wish to go down.
Asking a man to change his ways? Not really. More like allowing someone to fly and be themselves.
SKUNK ANANSIE AND SIMPLE PLAN
The first time I heard Twisted was at college, ad nauseum for two days, blaring from someone’s bedroom after she’d split up with her boyfriend. The strength of both songs Twisted for its pounding unapologetic and uncompromising guitar and lyrics, almost screaming. At my worst I thought Skin gets it, she understands me. Each and every day was hurting and in the world there was only black.
By the time it came to Simple Plan I was self harming. Please be careful reading further if you are triggered. As the skin pours blood, I believe the soul does too. The soul needs to bleed and mourn for the biology it suffered, and feeling physical pain is a way of doing that. But it is the same soul that will spur you onwards to a happier path.
I want to be clear that being trans is not easy. It is fucking hard. You go through pain, grief, and what seems like neverending sadness. Bodily contempt, hatred, loathing. It feels like you have been made to put on a disguise that does not fit, and you yearn for authenticity of the self, ardently, obsessively and with real longing. It is not a fetishistic whim. Transition for me was a vital process. To the person who said people do not understand what we go through, I hope they do now. That was partly my motivation for writing this post, to get that message out there, uncut and uncensored.
BEETHOVEN’S MOONLIGHT SONATA
Oooh classical!! Yes I am congruent in every way but perhaps the one thing I am a little secretive about is that I can be a classical music junkie sometimes.
Moonlight Sonata is perhaps the musical equivalent of the misery narrative Paris alludes to in her interview. It has been used numerous times on television to convey feelings of suicide, loss, guilt, grief and hopelessness.
I do not think I am being dramatic when I say that I grieved a lot for my womanhood, which I felt entitled to. I grieved mainly that I was not born with it. But then I realised I could do something about that.
The second major turning point was meeting Tina. I am not going to reference every song from here on in, as I do want people to be able to read the entry before Christmas. Meeting Tina was a huge turning point because I had always wondered why my own reflection was somebody I did not know. She was able to put those curiosities into a non-sensationalist, non-freakish context, and walk with me calmly while my head spun at a million miles an hour with oodles of questions.
I also became stuck for a period of time, and enmeshed in childhood narratives of stepfather abuse. But Tina was kind and patient enough to stick with me through this, but also offer me tough love. Though I was shocked at moving out of candyville, I am glad the tough love happened. It made me a fighter and gave me rhino skin. It enabled me to love myself and to honour and follow my heart, plus make my own decisions.
I also made peace with my disability during this time. Granted, there are times when it pisses me off, as my transition would be easier without another variable, but I live with it.
Another thing I do struggle with is love. I hope I meet someone one day as I have a lot of love to give.
It is the one thing I think would complement my own big and vivacious personality. I know there are people who are much worse off than I am and I try not to complain too too much. However, this is an ongoing struggle.
This is I guess the part of the entry I would term as the present. So how is it now compared to the life of pre-transition? Indescribably and infinitely more wonderful, whole, congruent, colourful and more beautiful. The best thing in the world is to know your own reflection and think actually, in spite of everything, she looks good.
I had a support network, experienced the LGBT scene, and I am now taking some time out to focus on my own stuff.
What I feel though, what I can smell is a sense of optimism from the trans community. My Transsexual Summer was a watershed moment doubtless.
It was the very antithesis of the misery narratives Paris alluded to. Rather than allowing their stories to be told, each one of them told their own. Yes, there were highs and lows, but they are a common feature in the life of every member of the human race, are they not?
Yet, nor were they victims. They were survivors. They are all individuals who embrace the challenges life throws at them and aim for succes and dream big.
But also, they, like me, believe in themselves. No-one should have to apologise for being trans. That is the bottom line.
Transpeople, like all people, are unique and special in their own way. But I believe people are beginning to become more savvy. They are learning the lessons of other minority groups. Rather than being spoken for, they are speaking for themselves. Loudly and proudly, and I include myself in that via this blog. Rather than being controlled, they are controlling their own narratives. Rather than being history, they are shaping, and reclaiming their own history.
What makes this all the more remarkable is that for a long time, I did not even want a narrative. Now I want to wake a shape our future in any and every way possible.
The turning point came when I was moaning and bitching about something, and Tina asked me what I was going to do about it? From passive to active in one easy question. There was no religious-esque vision, and no miracle. But that question changed my life. My life. No one else’s. It was my life to win, and to own.
I stopped caring what others would think, and began to live, and love living.
If any of this has resonated at all, whether the bad mood, the good mood, or the brilliant mood, I am glad. Even if life seems impossible at the moment, it is not. I used to think it was.
If life is good, I am happy and share in your happiness. For me it has been a battle, and one which is not yet over, but I am glad I came on to the field.
Also, do listen to the songs. The Jason Mraz one is particularly inspiring and like my good friend Hippy Clare, makes a virtue of living in the moment.It even has a hippy drum.
Let me leave the last words with a wise man.
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”