I happened upon the above piece by Beck Bailey about the need to tread a line, when you come out as trans*, between answering questions to help educate cisgender people and maintaining an appropriate tone to the questions. I had exactly that concern this week before I was interviewed by Channel Television following the launch of Trans* Jersey. Would the interviewer have done their homework or would they fluff the “he/she” pronoun usage and ask the “surgery” question?
In the event, I should not have worried. Gary Burgess (@GaryBurgessITV) from Channel TV told me that he had checked out Trans* Jersey’s resources for journalists and went on to produce an exemplary interview that stuck to the launch of Trans* Jersey and asked about my journey in a respectful way. We chatted for about 45 minutes on all sorts of trans* issues and I didn’t once feel uncomfortable answering his questions. I realise that I was fortunate that my first TV interviewer was an enlightened man, other trans* activists are not so lucky. You can see the piece here.
Not being naturally extrovert and being nervous before my interview, a colleague at work asked me why I was doing it. It is a good question and one that I have asked myself – a lot! If I’m honest, I’m not sure that I would be doing this if it hadn’t been for the fact that anti-discrimination legislation is being brought in by the States of Jersey, which includes the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. The protection of this characteristic was not being called for by any groups on the island (because no groups existed!) but was included because the States are copying the UK’s Equality Act, which includes it. Its inclusion is going to raise the profile of the trans* population in the island, who have been completely hidden until now, and consequently mean that the cisgender population will need to have some level of understanding of trans* issues to know how not to be discriminatory.
Unfortunately, nobody appeared to have thought through the consequences of including gender reassignment as a protected characteristic. I could see that, unless someone from the trans* community stepped up to speak on our behalf, we would end up being spoken for by a cisgender individual, who might be well-intentioned but could never really grasp trans* issues, and have our fate decided by people unaffected by that part of the legislation. We could also have a number of poorly worded or inaccurate guidelines circulating in the public domain that did more harm than good. I could foresee a need to educate the politicians, civil servants and general public about what it means to be trans* and what issues are important to us, rather than what issues the cis population think are important to us. So, that was why I took a deep breath and stepped up to the plate.
As a result, I have had an amazing week of meeting new people and getting to know their stories. Everybody I have spoken to has been supportive of Trans* Jersey and full of good wishes for its future work. My mother, who was interviewed with me, has also had a week of strangers coming up to her offering their congratulations for speaking up. It has been personally empowering and a bit overwhelming. It has also reminded me that the trans* community has a lot of cisgender allies, who have no personal reason to support Trans* Jersey’s aims but do so because they want to live in a world that is equal.
In one sense, I am a reluctant activist: I would rather have kept my transition private. But, in another sense, nobody forced me to stand up, I do so because I think I am strong enough to and because I think equality (for everyone) matters. Also, it occurs to me that if I don’t, maybe nobody will and, if I do, maybe others will.
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