It’s the 21st century. Every day we are making bigger leaps into inclusivity, the acceptance that all people are different and that those differences are what makes us human. We are finally beginning to learn that we are far better off embracing those differences than we are trying to deny them. We are also learning that perhaps these differences are not as rare as we once thought.
It seems that now we are constantly able to celebrate the bravery of someone else, who we either know personally, or who we know via the media, or through friends, who has decided to come out and state to the whole world who they are. I can only imagine the fear which must accompany that decision and just the idea of ever having to come out in the part of the world I live in terrifies me. As a straight person I will never have to fully experience that feeling, nor will I have to make the decision about whether or not I tell people, and if I do tell people, who I tell and when. But there are people all over the world who struggle for years and years with their gender identity or sexual orientation without being able to fully admit who they are for fear of being on the wrong side of the law, or that their families will not accept them. By living in the UK I live in perhaps one of the most LGBTQ+ inclusive countries in the world, or so it seems from my straight point of view, and yet the idea of coming out for many is still a horrifying concept and too many people never manage to declare openly who they are.
The suicide rate for young people in the LGBTQ+ community is sadly still on the rise, with 42% of people in a national survey of young people in the UK saying that they had sought help for anxiety and/or depression and 56% reporting they had self-harmed either recently or in the past. Perhaps worst of all, 44% of those who were part of that community said they had considered attempting suicide at some point. The idea that someone would ever feel suicidal in any situation upsets me more than it would be possible to say, but the thought that people may be considering it over whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community I find unfathomable because I cannot understand how now, in 2019, it is possible that we could still be living in a world where people care so much about other people’s sexuality that they would be able to drive someone to end their life.
There’s a phrase that we hear over and over again and yet also not enough; love is love. And to add to that, people are people. It should not matter who somebody loves or if they are male or female, no matter what sex or orientation they were born, as people should all be treated equally. The very first Article on the Universal Declaration of Human Right is that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. It is top of the list of rights which every single person born in the world is entitled to, so why is it that we still cannot accept people for who they are? Why is it that we cannot respect them with the dignity that they deserve?
While scrolling through my YouTube recommended section, I came across a video from CBS This Morning about Teddy Geiger, a transgender singer-songwriter who has just been nominated for her first ever Grammy Award. I did not know much of her story however I had known she was transgender having googled her after a collaboration she had done some months earlier with another artist. Whilst watching the clip I was able to more fully understand her journey and the stresses and anxieties that struggling with her gender identity had led to. I learned also about the musical journey she had gone on, from being a teenage star, to stepping away from the media and her on stage fame to become one of the most requested song writers in the industry. I was amazed by the vast number of songs which she had collaborated on and by just how well she was able to help other artists come across in their own writing. I was impressed by just how many artists she had worked with, collaborating alongside singers such as Christina Aguilera, Anne-Marie, 5 Seconds of Summer, One Direction and Shawn Mendes. Having heard the song she was nominated for, I felt it was absolutely fair that Teddy be in the running for a Grammy, her powerful lyrics having touched thousands of people all over the world. I headed to the comments section underneath the video, as I am inclined to do, to see what other people’s opinions were. I was expecting to see hundreds of messages of good luck to Teddy and just as many congratulating her on her incredible achievements both in music and in her personal life and, granted, the top three comments were all praising her strength and courage, and wishing her all the best in her future musical journeys. It was when I reached just the fourth comment on the list however that things began to take a turn. The words “freak”, “unnatural” and “weird” leapt off the screen in front of me and forced me to see, not the happy and upbeat messages Teddy deserved, but the underbelly of internet trolls who had found their way there first. There were just 50 comments total on the video at the time when I arrived in the section. Three of those were heart-warming thanks and congratulations to Teddy for her bravery and for giving others the courage to do the same. Perhaps seven were one brave activist standing up for the LGBTQ+ community against all the trolls. Every single other one (40, I believe, if I have done my maths correctly) were questioning her in the harshest of ways, referring to her as “he” and “him”, sometimes even “it”.
I was, perhaps naively, shocked at the way in which she was spoken about, the ways in which people described her and other people who had come out as transgender. Maybe I should have been expecting exactly what I saw there but even still, I could not help but feel a great sense of anger at what I was reading. How dare anyone sit at home on a laptop, actively typing out hateful comments below what should have been a positive video? So I found myself writing my own comment. I remarked on my horror at how negative and hateful the comments were and I let my thoughts be known about how wonderful and inspiring I thought Teddy was, and then I pressed send. And there it was, the 51st comment. For a while it would sit at the top of the pile, and my hope was that anyone else who came to watch the video, perhaps other transgender people, and who scrolled to the comments like I had, would see my comment first, which I hoped would show my support for the LGBTQ+ community rather than the hatred which was sitting waiting below those top three, and now four, comments.
But as I sat there and looked at my own comment hanging there above the hate and the calls that it was not something to be proud of, I felt a twinge of guilt because I worry, deep down, that I am no better than them when it comes down to it all. I know somebody who is transgender. They are one of the most important people to me in the world and without them I would be lost. I love him to the moon and back, he has been there for me for as long as ever I can remember and has never once let me down or over looked my needs. He has always been a beacon of positivity and happiness in my life. Except there is one place where despite all he has done for me, I have let him down so greatly, it is almost irreconcilable. Perhaps I am doing it now, every time I have mentioned this person, I have used the pronoun “he”… but what she wants, more than anything else, is to be recognised as the women she feels she is. She. Just by typing that one little word I have given her more of her identity than has ever been given before. Only seven people, besides her, in the whole world know who she really is, and every single one of us still refers to her as him, despite one of us who knows being in exactly the same situation. Transgender but unable to tell a single person.
In the part of the world where we live, it is relatively safe to come out as gay. People will perhaps be surprised and there will always be one or two people who have something horrible to say, but they will quickly be shot down by those around them and the person who is out will overall be accepted. But there is just not the same acceptance for people who are transgender. “Trannies” as they are derogatively referred to, are thought of as unnatural and strange. Not really quite one sex or the other and never quite accepted. I know only one person who is out as being transgender in the place where I live. He wants to use male pronouns and be referred to with his new, more masculine name. Yet, as far as I can see, in every document issued, he is still referred to as a girl, still with his old name. His own sister, who herself is openly bisexual, was sceptical too about the validity of her brother’s transition. For some reason I am not yet sure of, transgender people are not nearly as accepted as other people in the LGBTQ+ community.
We had a theatre group come to perform for us the story of their main cast member, who himself is transgender and has completed his transition. The play was eye opening as to the struggles he encountered as a transgender man and the journey he had to take to acceptance. It was a beautifully written script and they performed it brilliantly. Yet, all around me I could hear people laughing and whispering to each other. It made me cringe and want to sink through the floor, hearing the things that people were saying while the actors were right there in front of them. Afterwards I was engaged in so many conversations about why it was important that we were shown these things and why we were in such great need of education, I was actively standing up for the actor and vocal about how, the reason we all needed to watch that was because we still couldn’t do it without people laughing. Until we as a community can watch that play without one single person making a derogatory comment, we are not yet accepting enough.
And yet saying that, I cannot seem to accept the transgender aspect of my life. The person who is so close to my heart. Why is it that I cannot stand next to her as she announces to the world who she is, what she wants to be called and how she wants to be seen? Why is it that the idea of doing that terrifies me more than anything else in the world? Even as I write this I can’t help but cry hard enough I can barely see my keyboard because of the knowledge that I am part of the reason why she cannot be the person she wants to be above all else. When first she came out to us, I was so young I barely even knew what it meant to be transgender. I accepted her situation and then moved on to the rest of my life. I accepted that when she was at home she wanted to be able to dress in what she wished she could wear all the time. But as time when on, I began to notice the slight changes in the way she acted or dressed even when we were out of the house, where people still knew, and know, her as a he. Even Microsoft Word can see the issue in my last sentence, underlining “he” in blue and suggesting instead that I use “she”. But still I, who prides myself on standing up for what is right in the world, and for being an Ally of the LGBTQ+ movement, cannot even stand up for someone who has stood up for me for almost 14 years. I, who stands in pride marches waving a flag of support can barely bring myself to type “she” to describe someone who I have known as “he” for so long. I have been known to criticize the Kardashians on the less than sensitive way that they sometimes refer to their mother’s ex-partner, Caitlyn Jenner, before realising that I am in fact no different to them as I stand between my loved one and the life she wishes she could lead. So what is it that makes me hold her back? Is it perhaps that I am not ready to let go of the person I know just now? Even though, essentially, she would be the same, she also wouldn’t be and I would have to be ready to let go of that side of her that I already know so well in order to embrace the side of her she would like me to know?
Or maybe it is because I have gone through almost 18 years of my life as a female, and while that is not a particularly long time, it is plenty enough time to have experienced the often misogynistic society that we live in. It has been enough time to feel I have to remain quiet in my classes for fear a boy might laugh at me, to feel a slight sense of fear every time a man approaches me in public or walks behind me in the street and to feel as though I have to sometimes be more than some of my closest friends purely because they are boys and I am a girl. And maybe because of that, some part of me resents any man who thinks that being a woman is about appearance more than anything else, that I cannot see how someone who has gone through his whole life up until this point could ever know what it feels like to be a woman in a society ruled over mostly by men. By yet I know that this person is not like that. She knows that more than appearance goes into what makes a woman, I know that she would understand how different the experiences of my male friends would be in comparison to my own, but still it nags in my mind a little that she would always have the confidence to speak up in a room full of people, or to walk home alone in the dark.
If I am completely honest, I cannot help but despise this part of me, the part which wants nothing more than to cling on to a version of the person I know, who she wants to put into her past. I wish I could over-come it and move away from these backwards views but I also know that it will be a long journey of my own to be able to do that. I think that maybe, by writing in the sense of referring to her as “she” and “her” I will perhaps help this journey of mine along, that if I can do it in type, perhaps I can do it at home, and then one day, I could maybe manage it in the real world. To be able to support her as herself, out and proud, would be the most wonderful thing and while I know that I am so very far away from that point just now, I hope that in the future, I can stand by her side in that pride march and say confidently that I love her for who she is and that is all that matters.
It is difficult to be a trailblazer, and while she would love nothing more than to be just that, I am not ready to be. And that makes me the most awful, selfish person on earth and I know that, but just as I am beginning to understand her, she is beginning to understand me too and together we are able to come up with compromises and solutions and to continue to better our understanding of each other, out of the watch of our friends and family who do not yet know her as she is. It is because of this understanding that I can say that I believe, sometime in the future that I could manage to accept her for who she is in all walks of life, not just at home. So to answer, yes. I am a hypocrite. But my aim over time is to put into action what I teach to other people, to lose that side of me which I hide deep below my liberal views, and to be able to say with absolute certainty that I am an Ally of the LGBTQ+ community, not just one of the LGBQ+.