As a writer I like to explore different characters in order to use voices that will differentiate them and be in keeping with the psychology and personal history I have created for them in my novels and short stories. I spend a lot of time listening to people speak, talking to them, asking their views/opinions on issues etc, and I research other countries, cultures and speech patterns. However, one area of life that I’m less familiar with is LGBTQ.
I will be 70 in April and have seen a lot of changes during my life regarding people who don’t fall into the heterosexual binary category. But it was only during a discussion with friends last weekend, about the BBC progamme ‘Seahorse’, that I realised, to my horror, how outdated and ignorant I am. This week I set about trying to educate myself.
I am aware of the cisgender/trans-women issue that raged on Facebook for months but I never engaged with it. My personal feelings at the time were that classifications aren’t necessary and whatever anyone wants to present themselves, whatever pronoun they wish to have, is fine by me and I will do my best to respect their wishes. However, I now realise it’s much, much more complicated than that.
In order to educate myself, I picked up a book originally belonging to my daughter Trans Voices: Becoming Who You Are by Declan Henry (Squirrel Publishing 2016). The blurb on the back says:
“This book gives an important, valuable platform to many divers trans voices. We must listen andlearn from their experiences and concerns; and act in solidarity with their human rights struggle.” (Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation)
Perfect. However, as I read through I began to panic.
As an ex-teacher I’m aware of different kinds of learners and used to employ various strategies to help my students find their most effective methods of learning. I’m a kinesthetic learner; I learn by doing something repeatedly – new technology is a good example. If someone tells me how to do a certain thing on the computer and I don’t have to do that action again for several weeks, I forget how to do it; I have to write it down and refer to it again when I need the information. As I’ve got older, my ability to retain new things is slowly decreasing, and when faced with lots of new words, despite being a writer and words being my ‘thing’, I feel like a poor speller who’s struggling to determine the differences between ‘Their’, ‘There’ and “They’re’.
Back to my panic. I never knew there were so many words, so many categories or terms that explain all the different physiological and psychological experiences, states of mind/identity, and trying to remember them all overwhelmed me. I had to keep flicking back the pages to the various labels in order to understand differences between gender-fluid, gender-queer, gender-non-conforming, and gender-variant, to name a few. To be honest, I’ll still have to look them up as my brain can’t quite accommodate so much information overload. However, labels aside, what I loved about the book were the personal voices of the many people Henry interviewed, and the breadth of their experiences in transition and what it meant to them.
In these disturbing times we live in I am always greatly encouraged to hear stories of not only survival and courage in adversity, but also of compassion and empathy. I have never before lived through such hatred and divisiveness in society, bombarded by the media and encouraged by politicians. It is therefore a breath of fresh air to read about and hear the voices of so many people who, despite the difficulties of health systems, familial rejections and public prejudices, have emerged to become the person they really believe they are. I feel humbled.
I set out to read the book in order to educate myself, but in the process found out about myself, the extent of my ignorance, and a whole new world of experiences I have never really considered in any depth. Thank you.