I’ve had one of those days. It started really well, with a fantastic discussion about a space I’m helping to run at Outburst Arts Festival (in Belfast from 12th-21st November) called Genderama. It’s a creative project about gender, with various events being run by and for the trans community, including a reading of ‘Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl’ by the fabulous Fox Fisher, a ‘performance as activism’ workshop by the incredible Nando Messiah, and three other projects involving local trans groups (including an installation by myself exploring non-binary gender).
It went downhill from there though. I popped into the local LGBT centre to chat to representatives from The Rainbow Project, which is a Northern Irish LGBT organisation that needs to work on the T element. I spoke to a representative of TRP who made the (utterly ridiculous) assumption that I was a cis woman (why on earth would a cis woman be curating a space for and by trans people?!), which infuriated me to no end. Yet another example of why I loath to interact with (unfortunately) the largest LGBT organisation in Northern Ireland – they can’t even be bothered to offer their own staff trans awareness training!!!!!
Following this meeting, I went along to the Belfast Media Festival (because I work in the media industry here in Northern Ireland). I was already really anxious about going, because most people in the industry know me by my birth name, and I was anticipating misgendering and being dead-named. Hiding in plain sight is something that I am remarkably good at. The idea is not to skulk – that looks suspicious. Still, I was noticed by three people, one who didn’t use my name at all (most likely cos he knows that I changed it but has no idea how to pronounce it!) and two who used my old name.
I find it incredibly hard to correct people in these situations, partly because I don’t want to embarrass someone else, but mostly because it results in an awful lot of explaining that I just don’t have the energy to do. After the second dead-naming (admittedly, through no fault of the people involved, as they don’t know about my name change), I decided to have one last look around and then go home. I headed up the stairs to check out the BBC Blue Room (an interactive area) but I spotted a group of people that I know from a year ago, who would most definitely not know about my name change and transition. Rather than face them and be dead-named (one of them is the BBC commissioner for Northern Ireland, so there was no way I was gonna take up her time with an explanation!) I turned tail and ran.
By the time I got home I felt horrific. Each time I fail to correct a person who uses the wrong pronouns or wrong name, I feel like a complete and utter failure 😦
I find it easy to write my thoughts down, or to record videos of myself talking about transitioning, but educating individuals on a one-on-one basis daily is something beyond me. If I know that I’m at an event to educate people, I can do it, and do it well. But if I’m just going about my daily life, I cannot do it. It kills me, too, because it means smiling and pretending, when all I really want to do is scream.
Being transgender, and in particular, being non-binary is excruciatingly difficult. Why can’t people just tell that I’m non-binary – neither girl nor boy? Why do I have to use the disabled loos or be faced with a choice between male or female toilets? Why has my country written into law a self-declaration of gender bill that excludes non-binary identity? Why do cisgender politicians in the UK believe that there is no specific detriment to refusing me my right to have my gender legally recognised? Why do I have to ALWAYS cross out Mr/Ms/Mrs/Miss options to write Mx as my title? Why? Why? WHY?!?!? WHY is this all so difficult?
Each time I venture out, it takes a huge amount of courage and energy, because I know that I will be misgendered, dead-named or referred to in some way that implies that my gender is binary. Even some trans people struggle with my identity.
“It muddies the water by telling people about non-binary issues, let’s just keep it simple”
“Would you mind not using the *insert gender* loo because I get funny looks/outed as trans when I walk in with you”
No matter what way I turn, there are barriers and rejection. No wonder trans people isolate themselves. No wonder trans people self-harm and consider suicide. It’s not a popular topic to talk about (who wants to talk about these topics, really?) but when I came home today, I felt desperate, despairing and suicidal. And my day wasn’t even, in the grand scheme of things, that bad. But it’s the consistency of these bad days that bring me down. It’s the fact that I overcame my anxiety to attend this event, only to be denied my existence over and over again. The worst bit is that I have no idea how to change things. How can I change the outlook of people when out society is so gendered, so binary, so steeped in the essentialism of gender?
It’s really fucking hard being transgender. And it’s really fucking hard being non-binary. Sometimes I just wish life could be easier.