Category Archives: Personal

Are you a man or a woman? Yes, thanks.

This time last week I was getting ready to go to the Attitude Awards, where I was asked to present the gong for media representation. (I write for Attitude magazine’s rival, GT, so I was particularly flattered to have been invited. Thanks for having me, editor Matthew Todd.)

1381372_522151207876350_919302008_n

You might expect a transgender woman to have a lovely evening at an event that celebrates diversity. And I did. I had dinner sandwiched between the outrageous Paul O’Grady and super lovely Celia Imrie (giving me a koala hug, above). Cher breathed on me. Last year Kate Moss blew smoke in my face, so I just need Madonna to cough on me and I can die happy. Trans people were mentioned throughout the speeches, and I was close to tears as we heard about the plight of gay and trans people in Russia, when the Attitude Community Award was given to the Russian LGBT Network. Matthew Todd made several references to trans people and gave me a warm personal mention in his opening speech. He sat me at the top table, with Gareth Thomas, Ed Milliband and his parents. It was surreal. The overwhelming majority of guests were trans allies and I had a truly wonderful night.

There were one or two incidents that stuck out, though, precisely because of the lovely safe space in which they occurred. I saw an acquaintance with a female friend. This friend asked me what I was doing at the event, was I gay? Paris is trans, my pal told her. What does that mean, asked the friend. Are you a girl? That was my starter.

Later I headed out to the back with my new pal Matt Cain, where we joined a man and a woman having a cigarette. She asked me what I was doing at these awards, was I a lesbian? She loves lesbians, you see. I tell her I’m transgender – and so began the main course. Are you a woman? Are you a man? Are you a third sex? What are you? No, you don’t understand – have you had everything done? Why can’t I ask you these questions?

I tried to explain that mentioning I’m trans doesn’t mean you can ask me if I’m a man or a woman, or indeed anything about my genitals. I tried to be nice. They were drunk. We were drunk. Everyone was having a good time. Why bother explaining that her reaction was like meeting a gay man and asking if he ‘takes it up the arse’? I might have made this point, but then the guy started mouthing that I had ‘brought it up’ and what did I expect? They had done nothing wrong.

He was a smartly dressed man round about my mother’s age, who said he wrote for a quality paper. I don’t know if he was gay. Perhaps I should have asked. I’d at least expect him to be gay friendly if he’s turning up to the Attitude Awards though. So this was an intelligent, broadsheet journalist, in his early 40s, at a gay awards ceremony. And he didn’t see what the big deal was. At first. Later we all shared a cab to a wine bar and he agreed his friend’s questions were not, as I generously put it, ‘ideal’. I wasn’t sure if I’d really wanted to go to this wine bar with these people, but, after our little chat I said, Come on, let’s have a good night anyway. I meant it.

In the bar I start talking to a smart businessman, who asks me what I do. I’m a journalist, I say. What do you write about, he asks. Equality and diversity, feminism, gay and transgender issues, I reply. Ooh, he says, what’s your interest in transgender people? I tell him I’m transgender. It’s hard not to mention this if I’m discussing my work and why I have been invited to something like the Attitude Awards. Then this otherwise sensible man starts asking me if I’ve had ‘the op’. And so on. This was dessert. So, he continued, what does transgender even mean? This isn’t actually a bad question but God bless Mr Cain all the same for jumping in with: “It means she doesn’t want to answer questions about being transgender all night. OK?”

But what are you Paris? I felt like saying I am Paris Lees, winner of the Positive Role Model Award for LGBT at the National Diversity Awards 2012, Radio 1 and Channel 4’s first trans woman presenter and top of the Independent on Sunday’s Pink List of influential gay, lesbian, bi and trans people. I wanted to say that because they made me feel like my genitals are the most important thing about me. And don’t get me wrong, they are good… so good, but there’s a little more to me than that, you know? Instead I moved on, flirted with the cutest guy there, drank some pink champagne and, finally, got a black cab home.

If any of the people I met that night are reading this, take my answer down as I’m only going to say it once.

I am a woman. On a mission.


Top of the Pops

I’m on the cover of today’s Independent on Sunday, having been named the most influential LGBT person in Britain by the Pink List 2013. I’m so pleased my work and my way of doing things, positively, has been recognised. I’d like to thank the wonderful people in my life, so, in no particular order…

IMG_0112

Thank you!

Mark, for putting up with me.

Mum, thanks for the tough love and for teaching me to be cheeky.

Aunty Ray, for teaching me to always be kind.

Mamma Jo, for being mother superior.

Kenny, for filling a void.

Aunty Louise and Uncle John, for always being there for me.

Natalie, for being the coolest sister and sticking with me through thick and thin.

Sarah, for giving me guidance, being clever and putting up with my moods.

Roz, for being rather awesome at all times.

Jane Czyzselska, for being the first person to pay me for my writing and continued support.

Darren Scott, for giving me stability and access to free makeup.

Leng, for always encouraging me.

Janet, for your wisdom and adopting me for a while.

Louai, for introducing me to Almodovar when I needed escapism.

Blayne, for being the coolest little brother anyone could ask for.

Michelle, for delivering Blayne. And delivering me to Brighton in one piece.

Chelsea, for guiding me through the dark days.

Steffi, for being a crazy creative bitch and those 4-hour phone calls.

Vicky, for bringing me food when I couldn’t leave the house.

For Carmel and Sam and El and my Brighton girlies for letting me join the cool gang, for trips to Boots, lobster and pumpkins.

Cormac, for being someone I can trust with my life.

Rachael Mee, for being the best pal a gal can have – when I wasn’t yet the gal I am today.

CN Lester, for educating me and putting things in perspective.

Nathalie McDermott and Alana Avery, for being super lovely and doing what you do oh-so well.

Patrick and Dan, for teaching me how to pitch, treating me like a lady and not believing me when I tell you I’m a soulless bitch.

Piers Bradford, for believing in me and opening doors I didn’t know were there.

Stuart, Caroline and Ravi – for seeing something in me and taking the chance.

Tim Lusher – for commissioning my first broadsheet article and helping me grow as a writer.

Alice Lloyd and Joe Hallam for helping produce something to be very proud of.

Christine Burns, for always wishing me well, and inspiring me when I was depressed.

Cathy N, for being frank, fiesty and fierce.

Michelle Bridgman, for making me laugh.

Kathy, for editing advice, warmth and lunches in the Sun’s canteen.

Dr B, for surprisingly good advice.

Theresa, for believing me.

Calpernia, for being witty enough to give me a fresh perspective.

Lisa Markwell, Sarah Morrison, Katy Guest and Kim Watson, for seeing value in what I do.

Everyone who has ever messaged me with words of kindness, teachers along the way and social workers who kept me from the abyss. For anyone I’ve forgotton, too.

Julie Burchill, for writing Sugar Rush and making me want to move to Brighton, where it all began. And for highlighting bigotry and giving me a voice.

To all my lovers, for making me feel like a woman. Or a man. Depending on when we made love.

And to all my haters, people who do not wish me well, those who would try to hold me back because they resent the good things I now have in my life, those who made me feel ashamed, frightened and inferior… you make the biggest impact on me because you make me determined.

Thank you!


TRANS PEOPLE JUST ARE. GET OVER IT.

This post is taken from a speech I made at a conference in Leeds last month, Recognising Diversity? Gender and Sexual Equalities In Principle and Practice.

• We live in a society where we needn’t sit here like open-mouthed chicks waiting for entertainment to be regurgitated down our throats, helpless, squawking recipients.

• Increasingly we have choice in what we consume and it’s just as well – because the media has traditionally offered very little on the menu for people like me.

• When I was little I recall my dad was always saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.

• I was called a lot of names as a child, you see, so he had plenty of occasions to repeat it.

• It’s ironic, isn’t it, how people use words to try and make you feel better about other people’s words while simultaneously arguing that words don’t matter.

• I think they do. And I think images matter too.

Photo: Ryan Harding Photography

Photo: Ryan Harding Photography

• But I do know, through my activism and engaging with people online, that I’m not alone in feeling wholly misrepresented by mainstream media.

• I could list statistics that show how unhappy trans people are with the way they are portrayed in the media, but that doesn’t quite capture the depressing feeling of disappointment described, rather eloquently, by American writer and news editor Janet Mock.

• Last year she wrote:

“As a trans woman, there’s rarely a time when I’ve been able to applaud the portrayal or someone’s commentary on a woman like myself in mainstream media. As a fan of many shows, entertainers and writers who’ve belittled “my people,” I have a bittersweet relationship with what I consume. If I wrote off every famous person or show that offended me, I would have nothing to watch.”

• So what do we do with this mass depression, this feeling of powerlessness?

• Well, as I’ve found with my own depression over the years, we have to get up and do something.

• I’m not a fan of reactive activism, and I’m not sure that new regulations are the answer either – trans people are already supposedly protected under the existing PCC guidelines. These guidelines simply need enforcing.

• That’s why I’m extremely excited by a project called All About Trans, which connects media professionals with real trans people.

• We’re supported by the BBC and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the idea is to simply get influential people into the same room as trans people and create empathy.

• We hope that if we can put a human face on trans we can remove the caricature and make the people with power in the media think twice next time a script, or article or proposal lands on their desk that ridicules people like me simply for being trans.

• Last month we met with the editor of the Observer John Mulholland for a nice cup of tea; the week before that we took top brass from the BBC’s comedy department to the aquarium for the day.

• Everyone had a great time and those media professionals now have a memory of a fun afternoon out with people not so very different from themselves.

• It shouldn’t be necessary to remind media professionals that we are human beings worthy of respect – but sadly it is.

• It’s tempting to want to explain ourselves as trans people.

• Many trans women still feel they have to sell their transition narrative to get their voices heard in the media and that narrative has to conform to certain cisgenderist cliches of binary transformation from one essential to another i.e. ‘trapped in the wrong body’ or the ‘before and after’

• Even I’ve been tempted to do this before. And I’ve had plenty of opportunities.

• The problem with trans narratives, though, is that they are almost always in response to a cisgender, that is, non-trans-demand.

• My good friend and historian Jeff Evans, who does fantastic work getting LGBT History Month taught widely and well in schools, tells me that he is often asked if he can talk about the history of gay men.

• There is no such history.

• “Gay men” as an identity is a relatively recent social construct and it is not possible to write a history of gay men.

• Men who have sex with men, however, have always existed.

• What we can do is look at how society has treated those men.

• So it is for trans people. The idea of a “trans woman” which is how someone like me might describe herself, is an even newer concept.

• We can’t do a history of trans women or indeed trans men as none exists.

• Trans people, or people who do not fit neatly into one gender or the other, however, have always existed.

• The story isn’t about how trans people came about – and that’s not to say that recent medical opportunities have not made life easier for many trans people – but how societies have dealt with us.

• This isn’t about trans people and it never was.

• It’s about everybody else and how comfortable they feel about letting trans people exist and express themselves.

All About Trans... volunteers chat with Channel 4 News anchor Cathy Newman

All About Trans… volunteers chat with Channel 4 News anchor Cathy Newman

• So the problem, then, with trans narratives is that they invariably set out to explain and justify and mitigate the difference (or ‘otherness’) of those telling the story.

• Essentially this narrative boils down to “My life is horrible, please be nice to me!” – I’ve been guilty of slipping into this rhetoric myself at times.

• Ultimately this hands power to the person hearing the story. It’s a form of begging, begging not to be bullied.

• Do you think bullies listen to such pleas?

• This approach may work with some people who are borderline hostile towards trans people or may illicit sympathy from people who would have been supportive however they were awoken from their ignorance.

• The thing is though, this “poor me” pathetic transsexual narrative has been going on for over 60 years and it doesn’t appear to have made a huge difference to the way people like me are treated on the street.

• If you walk into a bookstore you will find whole sections devoted to LGBT writers.

• Some of these will be confessional biographies. Many will be by trans women.

• Many will be theoretical books.

• During my time as Acting Assistant Editor of Gay Times I was sent many academic books that tried to unravel what it means to be gay, to be queer, to be gender non-conforming.

• What is it all for?

• This is a conference to discuss complex ideas so perhaps this is an odd platform from which to present my message today.

• But trans people and anyone with an interest in gender diversity have to stop trying to dissect everything and anything about our experiences.

• It’s all just Trans 101 and trans 101 doesn’t work.

• We are othering ourselves.

• I’m only going to reference just two books today: the first is Edward Said’s Orientalism and the second is Julia Serrano’s Whipping Girl.

• Edward Said helped popularize the term ‘othering’ in his seminal text, Orientalism.

• He argued that, in the West, we have an idea of what it means to be Eastern; we have stories and myths about Eastern people about how they are and what they do – based on the severely limited and prejudicial but unchallenged understanding of a few early colonialists.

• Mysterious, exotic, licentious, workshy, deluded, devious essentially childish and incapable of making sensible decisions about what is best for them, immutable, incapable of changing for the better – where ‘better’ means behaving in the same manner as the ascendant culture

• These are some of the characteristics attributed to “oriental peoples”

• We’ve heard it applied to other ethnic groups, to other marginalised groups and, of course, to women.

A temple to Orientalism... Brighton Royal Pavilion

A temple to Orientalism… Brighton Royal Pavilion

• Such words summarise the assumptions of misogyny, the same misogyny that Julia Serano identifies as transmisogyny

• Serrano cuts through all this bullshit in her wonderful polemic, Whipping Girl, and at the end of it I was left feeling angry but also with a deep sense of “Wonderful, why did that even need writing?”

• Trans people just are. Get over it.

• Treat us with dignity. What more is there to say?

• If you’re still keen on your academic theory, I urge you to check out a researcher and thinker called Y. Gavriel Ansara. He has been key in developing an academic outline of cisgenderism and he points to the “invisible college” of academics researching trans people.

• They are usually white, male, educated and middle aged. They reference each other’s work… they write prolifically and build up each other’s status as experts on trans issues.

• They are consulted when the time comes to redraw health guidelines on trans people – guidelines that almost always problematize trans people.

• This, too, is built out of nothing.

• Trans people are people, and that’s all there is to it really.

• My activism used to be rather reactionary, we’d sit around waiting for something awful to happen and then get angry and say please don’t be horrible to us we have such awful lives as it is.

• Now, with All About Trans we answer questions honestly and explain issues to them but we are more focused on what they can do to help us make things better.

• We ask them what the problem is. Why the big fuss?

• It’s a positive dialogue and one in which trans people are not explaining themselves but politely asking to be treated with respect and enquiring as to why that is not currently happening.

• It’s very simple for me.

• I feel happiest expressing myself the way I do and being referred to and perceived by others a certain way. I don’t need to know why.

• I hope the younger generation of trans people can continue looking outwards and force the mainstream to take a long hard look at itself instead of obsessing over trans people.

• Positive, unapologetic engagement is how we make things better and do I hope you’ll check out the great work we’re doing by visiting AllAboutTrans.org.uk. Thanks for having me!


DEMAND RESPECT. DON’T LET THE MEDIA FUCK YOU.

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.

Photo: Ryan Harding

Photo: Ryan Harding

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.


Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Cruelty to trans children must stop. FULL STOP.

In February this year I was asked to speak at an organisation I greatly admire, the NSPCC – the first time, I understand, that trans issues have been officially discussed there. I really hope the NSPCC can do more work to support trans kids in future. I promised to make my notes available online… find them below the clip of me and child trans campaigner Livvy James,


• When I was asked to come and talk to the NSPCC my initial reaction was: Great! I’m so pleased they’re looking at transgender issues – but what do I know about vulnerable children?

• I quickly realized, though, that I know all too much about vulnerable children. I was one.

• I’m not sure how much you know about me but I’m a campaigner, writer and broadcaster – and much of what I do focuses on promoting the idea that trans people deserve the same human rights as everyone else. So do trans children.

• So what are the issues affecting children who express their gender non-conventionally?

• Trans kids can expect bullying, isolation, rejection by family, teachers and schools, rejection of their identity, lack of role models, and violence.

• Here’s an extract of a piece I wrote for the Guardian in 2011:

“Growing up, the only time I’d ever seen trans people on TV were those ‘brave’, depressing ones, hanging around hospitals waiting for ‘sex change’ surgery. They may as well have been aliens. The ex-mining town where I grew up in Nottinghamshire was insular to say the least. Changing gender was something that simply didn’t happen to the people on my council estate. But I knew from four that I was ‘different’, and other people seemed to notice too. I was routinely bullied, often quite violently, for years.”

• This time last year I appeared on BBC Breakfast with a trans girl called Livvy. After being bullied at school she began a campaign to end bigoted reporting of trans issues in the press. (Clearly this 10-year-old was smart enough to make the connection between bullying at school and bullying in the press.)

• I was both pleased and sad to meet Livvy. I wish I’d had the support that she enjoys when I was a child. I got quite the opposite – and was bullied by my violent father for “acting like a poof”.

• It’s important to understand the culture into which trans children are born. Trans people are ridiculed in the press daily and we are frequent punch lines in comedy across a range of genres. Julie Buchill’s Observer piece, in which she accused trans people of being “bed-wetters in bad wigs” was just one example.

• If serious newspapers feel it’s OK to attack trans people because of the way they look – relying on lazy, inaccurate stereotypes – why would our playgrounds be any better?

• Parents of trans children (whether they know they are yet) will read newspapers (like mine did) and this will inform their view on what transgender means.

• Does anyone here know someone who is transgender? If not, where do you get your information about trans people?

• Most people get most of their information about trans people from the media. As the media promotes bullying of trans people, you can see what trans kids are up against.

• Ironically, though, some of the most sympathetic stories about trans people are about trans children.

Livvy James

Livvy James

• People are often more willing to accept a gender identity that doesn’t match up with a person’s birth sex providing puberty hasn’t occurred and there are no secondary sexual characteristics to indicate birth sex (put simply: people are more likely to accept someone who was born with female genitals as male if he doesn’t have visible breasts.)

• Most trans people, though not all, will tell you they knew who they were, inside, from a very young age. I did. The majority are “non-apparent” – and were not able to come out and be themselves when they were young.

• Most trans people were also too scared to tell anyone; many older trans people even felt so pressured into conforming that they got traditionally gendered jobs and began families. Many trans women, i.e. those who feel female but were born male, enter the army in an attempt to “man up”. This is frequently unsuccessful. (“Flight into Hypermasculinity” (1988) by Capt. George R Brown documents this.)

• In this way, we might compare being trans to being gay – with a ‘coming out’ (although it is important to note that transgender is not an ‘extreme form’ of being gay and that trans people may turn out to be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual the same as anyone else. This is about identity, not sexuality).

• So if it’s not about sexuality (and clearly in young children that can’t be the motive) why are people trans?

• GIRES have a great website that explores the theories behind why people are trans, and I’d like to read something from a booklet they produced for the Department of Health.

“Typically, we are divided by our physical sex appearance into ‘male’ and ‘female’. We tend to think that all human beings fall into two distinct categories: boys who become men, and girls who become women… In most cases, our sex appearance, gender identity and gender role are in agreement with each other. However, a few individuals find that the way they look on the outside doesn’t fit how they feel inside.”

• This doesn’t mean that all boys who play with dolls are trans. But some might be. There are various theories as to why people might feel they are in the wrong body – social, mental, hormonal and physical – ultimately none of this matters.

• The important thing is that trans children exist. It doesn’t matter why they exist. They deserve the same human rights as everyone else – they must be protected from violence and abuse. They are likely to be vulnerable and need protection. Oftentimes from their families.

• I know that children’s charities have, in the past, held back from explicitly supporting trans children. There may be various reasons for this, not least the pernicious idea that trans is somehow taboo or wrong.

• Many people who deal with trans children – including teachers, adoption agencies or GPs – won’t understand trans issues. Some may be openly hostile.

• It doesn’t matter, though, if people who deal with children don’t ‘agree’ with transgender – the law now recognizes gender reassignment as a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010. Transgender is something people just have to learn to deal with.

• People who may wish to help trans children may also feel scared and that they don’t understand the issues properly. Or that it is about sex. It’s not. And the only thing to understand is that this is a human rights issue and a child protection issue – protecting these children from bullying and social rejection.

• There is research in the States that shows teachers in schools are scared of dealing sensitively and positively with trans children because they fear being seen as ‘too progressive’, or ‘too left-wing’ and who also fear the response, in particular, of parents of other children, and indirectly, through them, the media.

• Mermaids, a wonderful charity that offers support to families with trans children, has really struggled to find funding – mainly due to that unhelpful idea that trans is taboo.

• I cannot praise them enough for the good work that they do, such as brining together families for weekend retreats where parents can talk to other parents going through the same difficulties and the children can play safely. Mermaids also offers guidance to schools who have a pupil who is trans – from breaking the news to the other pupils, to solving problems like what changing rooms the child will use.

• I’d like to finish by asking people to check out Mermaids and also by reading a few case studies of trans children. Thank you.


Transgender children: 3 British case studies

I was recently asked to speak at the NSPCC about the issues trans children face. As part of my talk I read out three case studies, published below. All names have been changed.

(IMAGE: Young trans campaigner Livvy james)

Livvy James


Naomi

Despite presenting as a girl and being known as a girl by most of the children in her class, 6-year-old Naomi, who attended a small church school in a village in East Anglia, was constantly referred to as a boy by her class teacher and her headteacher. The class teacher said she had to be called her boy’s name because that was on her official documentation.

Even when her parents got her name changed by deed poll the teacher continued to do this. The head consistently failed to attend meetings with her parents and failed to return correspondence. All the children in her class were OK with her expressing real gender but a few boys aged 10 and 11 in another class started to bully her in the playground. When her parents complained, the school did nothing about it. After seeing her daughter become more and more depressed her mother reluctantly took her out of school, she has not been to school for 3 years.

Aysha

Aysha, aged 5 was completely open about wanting to be a girl. She would plait the hair of the girl in front of her while she sat on the carpet like all the other girls, she would always head for the dressing up box first thing during the day and emerge a princess or a fairy. This despite being sent to school in the most masculine clothes her parents could find. An only child, her parents did not want her to be a girl and applied a large amount of pressure to make her masculine.

A couple of times she was sent to her uncle in south Asia who would let her wear a sari and then beat her very hard with a stick. She would then be kept there until the bruises had gone before coming back to the UK. Social services did not want to know about this. Another parent complained to the head that she didn’t want her daughter to be touched by Aysha, with regard to the hair plaiting. The head told the class teacher to ‘stop him’ from doing this. The class teacher made all the children stop doing this, and a few of the other girls then got told off for doing so. Some parents complained about this happening and the head told the teacher only to enforce this on Aysha. She refused to do this and shortly after the end of that school year resigned in protest at being effectively told by school management to bully Aysha.

Zara

Zara was 10 when she decided she could no longer be a boy. Attending a primary school in South-West London she already had long hair, wore androgynous clothes and most of her friends were girls. Her parents took a lot of time to find out about being trans and supported her fully, discussing things in depth with the head and class teacher. Her transition was organized for a weekend and she left school early one Friday afternoon and the class teacher and head told the class that on Monday morning she was going to come back as the girl she had always known she was. They only told her class and the parents of children in the class. She came back on Monday and the only thing about her that changed was her name. She had very few problems; whenever a child, or parent of another child, tried to bully her, her classmates or staff would support her 100%. She stayed in school, did well in her SATs and continued to do very well at secondary school.


THE GREATEST COWARD

It might be when Mark’s gone to sleep, or perhaps I’m home alone, but I only really feel safe when I’ve tidied the house, washed and dried the dishes, popped the laundry on, locked both locks on the front door and closed the kitchen one, with me inside. I’ll have the big light on and sit with my back to the wall, knees bent and the washing machine to my left. I like watching it go round, and I think the people who make washing machine’s understand this because they always come with a window, don’t they? So I can’t be alone, there must be more people like me. I like it because it’s the only window in the house that no one can look at you through.

Strobe

My favourite part is when the clothes have been through the first cycle, where they get all soapy, and it fills with clean water and the dirt comes out. How simple it all is! No knuckles rubbed raw like our grandmothers’ – no heaving buckets of water from the fire. You just sit there and the bad things are washed away behind that solid glass screen. It never leaks. You wait for your clean clothes and the potential they represent: another day they can be worn.

People often tell me I’m intimidating but that makes me laugh. I don’t know why my heart beats faster, sometimes, and that dark unease washes through me like a cold wave of sexual pleasure. I don’t know why I jump at the doorbell or why my eyes fill with tears when the phone rings and I don’t know who’s calling; why I panic and worry and obsess over the smallest of problems. When I think of all the things I have dealt with – and there’s been so much – I tell myself, you know, you really should be stronger. The truth though is that I just don’t think I can cope with any more devastation… yet it lurks around every corner. I listen out for it, sometimes, the sound of guns, or sirens, maybe, shouting and screaming, buildings crashing down. Because there’ll be noise, won’t there, when the world crumbles? When the washing machine’s on, though, all I hear is that whirr, that sea-like slosh.

Sometimes I’m inside the washing machine, tossed around as floral scented water fills my lungs.

I always worry when I’m in public. Perhaps someone will shout, “You’re not a woman, who do you think you are?” like they have before. It hasn’t happened for a while but the fear that it will again, that I’ll be humiliated, do you suppose that ever goes away? So I feel safer at home, yes – but even then there are threats. What if the gas leaks and I have to go outside? What if there’s a fire and nowhere to return? What if people knock on the door, what if they want something and say, Quick, come on, come outside because it’s not safe here anymore? Maybe they’ll come and do that, one day, throw my mattress out the window and me after it. It’s not safe to put your trust in houses. They get blown down.

But if someone knocks on the door while the washing machine’s on you can say, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting anyone. I’m just waiting for the washing machine to finish before I go to bed,” and everything’s all right then. You can’t leave before the cycle ends, can you? You’re not a man or a woman either: you’re just someone who’s waiting for the washing machine to finish. You’re a legitimate person. It’s allowed.

People don’t usually knock on the door late at night, on Sunday, while you’re sitting on the kitchen floor watching the washing machine go round. Sometimes, when I see the water drain, I reach up to a button at the top that says “Extra rinse” and a light comes on to let me know I’ve pressed it properly. They’re good, those little lights.