Four years ago I uploaded a video to YouTube. I was nervous. It was the first time I’d spoken so openly about being transgender and I knew I might later regret it if I decided to go stealth again. I wasn’t so sure of myself back then. I had a breakdown, once, after something horrific happened to me for no other reason than me being trans. Funnily enough it wasn’t the event that made me nearly lose all hope – not to mention my mind – but rather the fear of becoming a national talking point. I’m rather bold and outgoing. I don’t know if Lucy Meadows was introvert or extravert but the sort of things that can happen to people like us terrified me.
In the video I talk about guys, which, before I became an equality campaigner, was my specialist subject. I’ve been with lots of guys. When I first transitioned (from male to female) I let many of those guys treat me badly. Without wanting to generalize about half the population, let’s say that some men treat some girls rather poorly. Trans girls, in my experience, are often treated the worst. These guys will fuck you, sure, but don’t expect an invitation to dinner: he doesn’t want to be seen out with someone like you. I believed that for a few years and was convinced I’d spend the rest of my life alone. Dating is hard anyway but harder when you’re trans. I’m hot stuff and was single for four years so, obviously, that’s my only explanation. And anyway who wouldn’t want to date a narcissist?
If I’d really thought so highly of myself, though, I wouldn’t have let men disrespect me. Regardless of gender I suspect many people feel this way. Would you let people treat you the way they did when you were 17? You get burnt and you get smart. You demand respect if you have healthy self-esteem. Or maybe you don’t and you get sucked into toxic relationships based on inequality, shame and fear. Many trans people suffer low self-esteem from living in a culture that constantly tells us we are less than everyone else, less attractive, less serious, less important – and less entitled to the privacy, decency and basic human dignity afforded everyone else. Many trans people suffer toxic relationships.
I started demanding respect. Are you a hunk? Great, let’s get it on! Do you respect me? No? See you later! It’s funny but, after years of letting people treat me like shit, the moment I started demanding respect, I got it. I told guys that if they wanted to see me, they could take me for dinner. If they wanted to get me drunk, they could take me for cocktails. I only had time for a man who was proud to walk out with me hand in hand and now I spend most of my time holding hands with such a man. We’ve just bought a house together.
It’s been an interesting week for me and it’s got me thinking. My relationship with the media is like my relationship with men. All I could see at first was the shitty way people like me should expect to be treated. I thought, ah well, that’s the way of things. I put up with it. I let myself be inferior because I let others see me as inferior. We were in it together, we’d made a pact. There were rules I had to obey, not to be seen or heard or else risk abuse, violence or ridicule. “If you ever see me in town, you won’t say hello to me or anything will you?” – that’s what I used to get asked by the men who wanted to be intimate with me. “Oh no of course not,” I’d reply, ‘I wouldn’t embarrass you like that!”
We let people take advantage of us when we are low, don’t we? We let men in late at night to penetrate us without kissing us, because we’re lonely. We let documentary makers penetrate our privacy because we want to make ourselves real. We put makeup on to meet other people’s beauty standards and show our before-and-after photos to make them like us more. It’s what they want from us and, at first, we don’t know any other way to be.
Well how about we tell them to fuck off? Over the past two years I’ve turned down several offers to appear in the media because the people making them didn’t respect me. I worried, though. What if I didn’t get another chance to get my message out? It was no different to my former fear that I would be alone for the rest of my life. I held out for respect and both times I was right.
Trans people, like many types of people, are starting to demand respect from the media. Katherine O’Donnell is night editor of the Times in Scotland. Juliet Jacques blogs for the Guardian. Bethany Black is a standup comedian. You might laugh at Bethany’s jokes but you don’t laugh at these women (and others like them) because they haven’t compromised. Don’t compromise. As Juliet wrote for the New Statesman recently, on the way the media treats trans people, compromise is neither desirable nor possible.
Stop feeding the lions. Stop jerking the jerks. They can all sort themselves out.