I always try and weave humour and opinion into these posts. Enigmatic observational comedy, together with points about friends, or usually the world in general. It was an approach I decided upon, back when I decided to focus on this blog fulltime. Abandoning my old blog, which had been kicking around for over a decade.
That blog, and that life, I wanted to, not necessarily discard, but it was unquestionably a life stuck in that time; 2004-14, terrorism and angst and growing up (or pretending to, at any rate). So after ten years I wanted a change, and I thought I’d leave most of my coming-of-age drama behind, hopeful that the freedom would allow me a fuller and more satisfying experience.
This was the right thing to do. And in most instances, I think this blog is a success. But, like everything you plan, Life has to laugh and intervene. And while I ignore much of celebrity life, there are poignant instances where I feel like I must comment. Even if commenting means sharing secrets, things that I decided I wouldn’t talk about anymore, with strangers.
These comments don’t bring me happiness. But, like anything that falls on the Right side of the line between Right/Easy, my own happiness isn’t really the point; which leads us on to it.
I noticed the media storm raging over the current series of Survivor. At how one contestant, in an attempt to justify his own status as part of the group, and doing whatever he could to remain on the show, thought it would help him to out another man as transgender.
The storm still rages. The perpetrator, a man called Jeff Varner, was subsequently fired from his job, a position at a real estate firm, following the broadcast. Whether you think that was fair treatment is itself dwarfed by the fact that the events took place last summer (2016) and have only just been aired by CBS. Therefore, Varner was forbidden to tell anyone the circumstances that caused him to be eliminated from the show. Though, you have to wonder if telling his boss right away would have saved him? As his employer, Allen Tate Companies wrote to the Huffington Post, stating: “The Allen Tate Companies were built on core values of honesty, integrity and respect. Those fundamental beliefs led us to end our relationship with Mr. Varner, a real estate agent who had become affiliated with our firm just 17 days earlier.”
In other words, if Varner’s going to blab about such a sensitive and private aspect of someone’s life, on reality television, what might he say about us?
It sows the seeds of doubt in anyone. especially in 2017, when gender identity continues to gather steam within the framework of the spotlighted Western world. Someone even went so far as to compare the outing of someone as akin to calling out the name of a previous lover during sex.
Nothing compares to the awkward silence with Thomas, after swearing hallelujah to Michael during orgasm. No putting the genie back in that bottle. And yet, people still think there is no harm done while doing it.
I speak from experience.
I am transgender. And if you think those three words aren’t difficult to write, think again. Look, there’s a picture of me, linked on this website, via my Gravatar page.
Me. Sitting in an NYC carriage, taking in the sights of Central Park. I wore black leggings, and a plaid short-sleeve long shirt from M&S. Straggly blonde hair, and a bakerboy hat, worn tipped back, like a yarmulke. I like that picture. I think because it portrays and accents the favourite parts of myself. My camera, and the brown bag I carry are well used, both have significant airmiles on their clocks, and like me, they predate the tech craze, a manual camera and a knapsack whose patched holes and stitched corners are genuine, not distressed for cred. My hair, perpetually trying to break free from its confines; and I’m sat with one of my best friends, my mom, as we’re in what’s arguably my second favourite city on earth.
I’m not naïve. No doubt, any reader here either knows me personally, or can spot from my pictures that I’m trans. If you did, congratulations, if you didn’t, thank you, that little moment of appreciation, assuming my being cis, if only for a short time, made me valued and trustworthy towards you. Whether you feel the same way now, is up to you; but I cast no judgment on your opinion of me from this point forward. But the point of this is, I TOLD YOU. Which empowers me to trust you. Because, as many transpeople are aware, and as the Huffington Post recently explained, outing someone isn’t cool.
So, I’m trans. And, as we’re on the subject of admissions, and as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m also British. I know, double-trouble.
British people, being more reserved (or repressed?) than their ex-colonial brethren in the US, find the whole transgender business more perplexing than horrifying. There is no British equivalent of the North Carolina Bathroom fiasco, no one murders transwomen by the dozen, though like the US very few transpeople ever appear on television. Though currently one of our soaps does have one. The only equivalent to a Janet Mock, or a Jenny Bolan, or a Laverne Cox, is Paris Lees. An advocate and journalist who writes about anything and everything, for anyone. We are British. It’s almost like the way British Jewry is starkly different from American Jewry. It’s reserved, cautious, and would prefer the shadow, and soft penumbra of the spotlight, than bathe in it.
My whole life, most of the time I have been reserved, unassuming, and modest. This is my character, regardless of any label. Not exactly a wallflower, I just think about what I say beforehand, primarily because I recognise that unnecessarily antagonizing my audience is potentially unpleasant. I know they’re aware I have several bullseyes on my back, all permissible to be exploited, and without fear of any social blowback.
Because there is no blowback. This isn’t like racism, or anti-Semitism, or even plain old-fashioned traditional sexism, transphobia is, historically, a new subsect of discrimination. Less than a decade old, and only acknowledged within the mainstream media in around half that time. Before then, the only time transgendered or genderfluid people were mentioned in the media was shock-value pieces in the redtop press, or as lonesome figures, wheeled out on Kilroy (nineties UK equivalent of Jerry Springer). As anyone, from any minority with half a brain, would say: “Why should I expose myself to that kind of abuse?” If that’s what publicity can offer minorities, I twigged in under a second that I lacked the control to stand in that limelight and weather the subsequent storm.
On a side note; what saddened me about this whole affair was the fact that CBS had the opportunity to explain why outing someone’s transgender status was the ultimate faux-pas, and utterly ignored it. I’m aware they are an entertainment show, and I’m unfamiliar with the rules of US broadcasting, but an explanation to the audience as to why the remaining contestants, and the host, acted so appalled in sight of the outing, would go considerably further than any number of governmental decrees. We all recognise how thorny and twisted the whole public restroom argument is, right? Reality television carries more clout with the everyman, than any governmental edict. Back in 2004, Big Brother featured a transgendered contestant, in similar circumstances to USA’s Survivor. No one in the House knew about Nadia’s status. She ended up winning the thing, and did so much for the community nationwide, because it gave the issue a point of reference for discussion that was easier to comment on, between friends and acquaintances alike.
I speak from experience.
But, what now? What does that make us?
Zeke Smith, the man at the centre of the media storm, explained he didn’t disclose his status to anyone on the show, because he didn’t want to be instantly labelled as “The Transgendered”. He just wanted to be applauded and vilified for the merits and flaws of his own character, minus one tiny point. He was hiding. He was hiding, because he was tired of people zeroing in on that tiny point, and disregarding everything else. So, he hid, and he lied.
Jay Sennett wrote his own opinion on this subterfuge:
I don’t relate to Sennett’s opinion. But, that’s only because my own experiences don’t mirror his; yet another example of minority narratives being more fundamentally unique than I think even the minorities themselves like to admit. My own experiences are more complex. I am a liar, and a thief, and I “pass”, and I do not “pass”.
Simultaneously, and often within the space of a single day.
I work as an OR nurse. Existing in scrubs, which are just as baggy and formless as their name suggests. Tall, rangy, and with hair covered I exist for much of my job as a androgynine; metaphasic, and tactile. It is a hands-on job, and my childhood taught me not to be afraid of getting them dirty. This confuses some people, alongside their opinion of traditional masculine and feminine perspectives, and I have experienced conversations where I am both a she and a he within the space of a minute. When that happens, how do I approach that? If I confront the person who uttered the malaprop, I will out myself to those that didn’t. My own defence is to ignore the person. And to consciously remind myself of that person’s name.
Because everyone I’ve ever known falls into someone who sees me, the real me, and someone who doesn’t. Those who do not see me, I dismiss. Those who do, I guard against, initially. Because, do they know my history?
I won’t talk about it, about my past, publicly, but people talk. There is no HR rule for gossip, even with several labour laws in place, within the UK, pertaining to LGBT status. And, as Zeke explains, he doesn’t want those conversations on anyone’s terms aside from his own. With people he trusts, implicitly, unafraid of having those admissions used against him at voting time.
I lie about my past, so I am a liar.
And I add bits and pieces to it, so I am also a thief.
But this is necessary to move about in society, even today. Akin to the spy with the false papers, from any Hollywood film. The spy has equipment and training and a hundred other skills, but she needs a backstory and an image, and that often means discarding her life, regardless of its quality, for one that fits the binary society a little better.
There are many who say I should grow a thicker skin, and not to let the comments bother me. But those people misunderstand. It isn’t unhappiness, or fear or sadness that churns in my brain, making my sinuses feel like they’re about to erupt; throat thick, hands shaking from the adrenaline. That was a long time ago, when I was young, lonely and hoping for a connection with anyone I worked with.
These days it’s anger.
And anger is a harder emotion to ignore. I am beautiful, brilliant, witty and charming, unless you misgender or malaprop me. Then I channel my inner Jules Winfield. My inner Bette Davis. My inner Jackie Chan. My blood sears inside my veins, adrenaline pulsing through my body, and I have to shake everything out, give myself a mental time-out. Swearing helps. Twofold. It makes me feel better, and if directed at the perpetrator it often gives them an indication as to their mistake.
Unless they don’t know, nor care. Which leads us to our next point.
Last week I was working. OR nursing is a curious melting pot of a career. Often, nursing staff are required to work cheek-to-jowl with their medical brethren, and in a class-obsessed society like England’s, it can produce curious results; the man in the bedsit, assisting the woman residing in a mansion, worth over a million or more.
I was running for a procedure, talking to the anaesthesiologist as she was working, chatting about Easter plans and general workplace things. Then she malapropped, out of nowhere…
And continued on, oblivious, utterly unaware that she’d slipped up.
How do you correct someone like that? Without drawing the ire of the rest of the staff?
Plus, she was medical, and known to have significant juice (i.e. influence) throughout the department. How do I comment, and risk a rebuke, further down the road? Her malaprop referred to my past also, another nod to the brand of Liar, another example of the duplicity I am often forced to project, when divulging anything about myself, beyond my present-day employment.
This is the kindest result the revelation of my transgender status can produce.
The cruellest goes as follows.
Same scenario, working on a procedure, this time scrubbed for it. Working with a man who knows about my transness, but we seem to get on, to a certain extent. We both like sci-fi, and that’s about it. It gave us common ground. The procedure’s drawing to a close and we start talking differently. For the first time he sounds different, sharing stuff, opinions, about people and movies, bantering.
“But you used to be called [NAME REDACTED], that was your name, right?”
In front of the whole theatre. And I hadn’t shared such information, either. Strangers. New friends I’d been trying to cultivate to see me as my own character. Trying to leave my unique status behind, just for once.
I know how Zeke felt, during Survivor.
I was scrubbed up, unable to leave my patient. To this day, I don’t know how I finished that case. My whole body went numb. You could’ve driven pins into me at that moment, and I doubt I would’ve flinched. No one said anything, no one said anything to the perpetrator either, which, I think, compounded the feeling. You’re disconnected, you’re not real, you’re nothing but a single label, nothing else is worthy of being common knowledge.
I left the theatre, went to the staff room, there were people there, but I sat and cried, safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t be approached. English people look uncomfortable around crying strangers. They don’t approach them, they just look awkward and think how they can swiftly leave, without drawing attention to themselves.
I cried, I went home, went to bed, got up the following day and went back to work.
Who would I talk to, about this? The man in question had more juice than the anaesthesiologist. They wouldn’t transfer him from the unit, they would transfer me. it happened to me, back in 2010, the same hospital, I’m not naïve to which one of us was expendable at that moment.
I have a job, and like any transgender person will tell you, secure employment can be the Holy Grail of essentials. Especially for anyone of my generation, who are not riding the populist wave of gender-fluidity. The young, the gifted, the natural, have little to worry about. Those of us who haven’t come of age within the last decade have to struggle for our own career aspirations.
All this pain, all this distrust and uncertainty, I have to bear it, because this is professional orientated. The second I step outside, I am natural. And I can walk the street as a regular person. Free to drink, dance, flirt, and hang around in coffee shops, reading battered second-hand paperback. Free to get my skin tattooed.
But the exposure to the flipside of this treatment; my own fears, and the phobia, ranging from genuine mistakes, to flagrant and invasive cruelty, scalds me, burning me, at times, down to the bone, cauterising any sensation, good-feeling, cheerful vibe, or honesty I try and cultivate outside my job.
And there we are, the ending of this tale. Do I try and change my job? As a health professional, I am sort-after in the UK, and possibly further afield. But, have you ever had to attend a party solo, where you don’t know anyone? A wedding, or an interview? The anxiety is a living, breathing thing. All-encompassing. I don’t know if I have that strength to start my professional life again. Especially in an environment so intimate as OR work.
So, like I said, this story wasn’t meant to bring me happiness. What does ‘happiness’ mean, anyway? Comfort, friendship, inner peace? Many writers, authors and critics cite the world “Nice” as one of the most banal words in the English language. I disagree. To me, “Nice”, when it’s genuine, reminds me of any day off work, where nothing is imminent, nothing is broken or needs to be fixed, no one is hurt or scared, the day just rolls by. So, you can lie in bed at sundown, head against the backboard and say ‘Yeah, that was a nice day.’ “Happiness”? Happiness is just Nice on crack. And if that’s the case, I don’t need happiness. Just having a nice day, free from the distrust and uncertainty, is enough.
It has to be.