Today – May 17th – marks IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. It’s a day that remembers that in nearly 80 countries being gay is illegal. In seven countries, being gay will have you executed. It’s a day to remember and to remind people that around the world gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face abuse and violence simply for being. It’s a day to remember that whilst issues such as legal recognition of same-sex marriages are important, the fight for equality does not end with anti-discrimination laws or marriage recognition. The fight for equality for all people must continue until these times of discrimination – of continually having the debate around basic human dignity and the right to be – are seen as embarrassingly anachronistic. Given how far we have to go in basic gender equality and race equality, that day is still a long way away. [Read more...]
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about visiting my GP, explaining to my GP that I was transgender, and asking for his help seeking a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic (usually abbreviated as GIC). The first step in this process is to get an assessment by the local mental health people who will then pass you on to an appropriate GIC – in my case this would most likely be the Charing Cross mental health unit and hospital in London.
When talking with my Doctor, I had explained that I felt – and I know this for a fact – that my issues with alcohol were related to my gender identity issues. I’d also mentioned that when I’d attempted to quit drinking before, I’d referred myself to the local drug and alcohol dependency unit.
When I last visited, the local drug and alcohol dependency unit in Basingstoke was a very strange place and not at all the professional clinical setup I was expecting. It generally had the feel of a very understaffed and very under-resourced place, who were far more used to dealing with people with severe dependency issues with many drugs, who had been referred to them by hosptials or – it transpires more likely – the courts. At the time of my first visit I got the distinct impression they were unused to people dropping in to refer themselves because they actually wanted help, rather than being required to seek it. I was given three options: group therapy, alcoholics anonymous or acupuncture.
Given that alcoholics anonymous is basically group therapy with knobs on, neither of the first two options particularly appealed to me. My issues were deeply entwined with gender identity issues which, given at the time I was firmly in the closet, was obviously not something I was prepared to do. My opinion of a drug and alcohol unit offering acupuncture as a therapy for a serious condition – funded by the NHS no less – is, to put it mildly, disdainful. So basically the choices were no use. One would not help because I could not freely discuss gender identity issues in front of strangers, and the other I felt to be a waste of money, and was frankly appalled that the option was provided.
When I explained this to my Doctor, he seemed to agree. If a treatment center is not right, it’s only right and proper to find an alternative treatment center, and if gender identity is intertwined with alcohol dependency, then these need to be treated together. I was very impressed with my doctor’s response. I could start to hope that this time I would get some help, and this time I wouldn’t be fobbed off to the jokers at the local dependency unit. I was assured I would get the professional help I was after.
A phone call
Today is just over two weeks after that doctor’s appointment. By some strange twist of fate, today was also the day I had to visit my doctor’s surgery to give a blood sample. As we hadn’t yet heard from the local mental health people, my wife suggested that it might be an idea to ask the receptionist to pass a note onto the doctor to see if he knew when we could expect the mental health people to get in touch. The receptionist was busy fielding phone calls, so we decided, “what the hell, we’ll give it another week”.
We got home, and I got a phone call: it was the mental health unit – the Access and Assessment Team (AAT).
I shan’t bore you with the details of the phone call because it was an exercise in frustration, the end result of which was I was assured that they had dealt with gender identity referals, that I could get an out-patient appointment, but that would not happen unless I had – to all intents and purposes – completely given up alcohol before I could have an appointment.
The catch 22
I honestly do not understand this. As I explained in my previous post, I am making no assumptions about the outcome of any discussion with the local mental health team, or any assumptions about the outcome with any discussions with the GIC, but they will not even let me speak to someone about my gender identity, unless – to all practical intents and purposes – I completely cut out alcohol.
This is my catch 22. In order to get help with my gender identity which lead to my alcohol issues, I must first deal with my alcohol issues through a drug an alcohol dependency unit that have shown they are unable to help me. In order to be able to discuss gender identity, I must first deal with alcohol, but in order to deal with alcohol, I need to discuss my gender identity. I must slay one head of the hydra before slaying the next, and no one is around to burn the stumps of the slain necks.
I just want to talk
The frustrating thing about all this is that I just want to talk to someone who might have some understanding of what I’m going through, and might be able to offer me informed professional advise about what I can do to help myself. I have forced myself to be scrupulously honest with my doctor and, when they contacted me, the mental health Access and Assessment Team, and it has gotten me nowhere. I have been told by the AAT to go back to Jacob’s House – the drug and alcohol service that were so pathetically useless the last time I spoke, despite being given assurances by my doctor that this was not suitable, and would not be required.
I went back to Jacob’s House today and, if anything it has gotten worse. No one was available to speak to me. We were practically told we shouldn’t have come during an “open access” time despite being told by the AAT that this is precisely what we were supposed to do. We were asked I had been referred through any number of schemes apparently only known by acronyms, and were treated like illiterate fools when we pointed out we had no idea what those acronyms meant (it turns out they are court-orders given to offenders with drug and alcohol issues to attend drug and alcohol centers).
People often say to people in a bad situation, “You just need to ask for help”. I asked for help, and no one it seems is willing to help me. I just want to talk to someone.
It’s enough to drive anyone to drink.
I took a big decision today.For a long time I have been struggling both with my gender identity, and with alcohol dependency and abuse. Over time I have had to accept that the two are related, and I was not going to be able to deal with one without also dealing with the other. I realised that I needed to seek help, and that help needed to come from a Gender Identity Clinic.
Today I took the first step along that road: I told my GP I was transgender, and that I would like a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic.
After reading through the #transdocfail hash tag a while ago, to say I was nervous about this would be something of an understatement, but my doctor didn’t bat an eyelid and has made a referral for me to the local mental health unit (Gender Identity Clinics don’t generally take referrals directly from a GP, but via a local mental health team). He quickly noticed, without my having to say anything, the link between alcohol abuse and gender identity; as my doctor said, “this is about your whole health: your psychological well-being as well as you physical well-being”.
What happens now?
The strange thing is, I don’t know what I want; I’m not going into this with any preconceived notion of what outcome I want, or what I expect, I just need to talk it out with someone who – hopefully – knows what they are talking about. Whilst I don’t accept that being transgender – or transvestite or transsexual or whatever – is a mental illness, it is nevertheless affecting my mental health. I can see a number of different possible outcomes – all of which are incredibly scary – but being in denial about needing help about both issues is no longer a viable option.
What happens now, I don’t know. Que Sera Sera – whatever will be will be. If it is ultimately decided that transition is best for me, then I will deal with that, and the problems this may cause with my family that I am painfully aware of. If it is ultimately decided that transition is not best for me, but some other course of action is, then I will deal with that too. I can’t deny that my preferred outcome would be transition, but I am also aware of what is involved and how incredibly difficult that can be. All options scare me, and that is why I need help, but the one option that scares me most is trying to maintain the status quo.
I have written this to my MP in response to the press coverage of Lucy Meadows, and the press’ generally hostile coverage of the trans* community.
Dear Maria Miller,
I am writing to you both in my capacity as the Trangender Community Liaison for Reading Pride, and as a private constituent, to bring your attention to serious concerns that have been highlighted recently in Parliament by Graham Jones MP over the recent death of Lucy Meadows, and what has been described as the ‘monstering’ of transgender people in the press.
It is not yet known whether Lucy Meadows took her own life, or whether the press intrusion into her private life contributed to her death, but it is known that she complained of serious harassment, and had to leave her home by the back door in order to go to her school to teach, and that she had to stay late in order to avoid the press. We also know that stories like that of Lucy Meadows are becoming tiresomely familiar.
It is also my contention that the transgender community faces a transphobic and hostile press. Just recently an article in the Observer described the transgender community in general, and transsexual women in particular, in barbaric and hostile language – using terms that if used in reference to any other minority group would never make it to print. The PCC decided there was no case to answer.
I understand that parliamentary time has been set aside to debate the depictions of the transgender community by the press and its effects on our lives. I would like your assurance that you will attend this debate, and stand up for the rights of the transgender community.
I would like to leave you with some statistics from Pink News: 84% of transgender people have thought about taking their own lives. Of those, 48% had made a serious attempt to take their own lives. 33% had tried more than once.
We cannot prove, and cannot know, that the constant denigration of transgender people by the press contributes to these figures, but from a personal perspective, as a transgender person who has not yet transitioned, it certainly does not help.
I look forward to your reply.
Reading Pride Committee, Transgender Community Liaison.
In the wake of the death of Lucy Meadows, I’ve been genuinely astonished by the outpouring of support – a petition to have Richard Littlejohn fired has so far, in a very short space of time, gathered over 100,000 signatures, with an enormous number of people from outside the trans* community finding solidarity and expressing their outrage. Yes, I know the petition will have no effect, and yes I know that Littlejohn was not personally responsible, but the outpouring of support has been truly wonderful.
One thing has bothered me though. One comment I have seen repeatedly is an opinion similar to this
I am outraged by the press reporting on Lucy, but still it must be difficult for primary school children to understand their teacher having a sex change – they’re too young.
I’ve seen this a lot now; people who genuinely support the trans* community hold the view that children will have difficulty dealing with a person changing the gender someone they know expresses.
Why is this?
A definition of prejudice is an opinion not based on reason or good evidence. It literally means to pre-judge – to determine what an outcome must be without good reason, or good evidence. I would contend that assuming that primary school children will find it difficult to understand a person transitioning fits quite nicely within this definition: it is an opinion that is being formed without evidence or good reason.
Prejudice vs prejudiced
Okay, no-one likes being told they’re prejudiced and it is important to note first of all that I am talking about an opinion that is prejudiced, it is not a claim about the person who holds that opinion. This turns out to be a very important concept, so let me explain.
I like to think that most people get that some people are simply prejudiced. I think it’s fair to say that white nationalists, for example, are racist to the core. But what people don’t generally realise is that there is a difference between been being prejudiced - being a white nationalist – and having a prejudice -believing that children will have an issue with a person going through transition.
We all hold prejudicial opinions without knowing it. That is a fact of life, and purely co-incidentally it is something Paris Lees will be talking about tonight (25 March, sorry readers from the future) on Radio 1, and has written about in the Telegraph. It’s also something the hugely hilarious Avenue-Q mention in the song “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes”. The difference between someone who holds a prejudicial opinion and someone who is prejudiced – a bigot – is the person with the prejudicial opinion is open to reason and evidence, and is open to changing their mind.
So before we continue, if you hold the opinion that children will find it difficult to understand transgender and transition: are you open to changing your mind?
Now it is possible at this point to leap in and say, “Hold on a second Claire, an opinion is not prejudicial if it is reasonable – that’s right there in your definition” and if I hadn’t written this sentence you would have gotten me. Is it reasonable (I am not asking is it accurate or if it is correct incidentally) to believe that primary school children will have difficulty understanding their teacher transitioning?
Think for a moment what children have to learn. By the time a child has reached primary school age they have had to learn: the alphabet, how to read, how to speak, the rudiments of the English language, how to count, how to add up, subtract multiply and divide. None of these things come naturally. If they did come naturally we wouldn’t need schools, writing would have existed for as long as human-kind has been around, and the roman’s would never have invented the roman numeral system (geek joke, sorry). But children are learning machines. We know that the earlier you learn something, the easier it is to retain. This is why a couple of years ago I was able to go to the French area of Switzerland and just about get by on the French I’d learned at school, but can barely remember three words of Japanese I started to learn only a few years ago.
All of this we understand, and we even – as a society – complain about “dumbing down education”, which is another way of saying “children should be made to learn more”.
If a child can learn the times tables from 2 to 12, can learn that adding white paint to red paint produces pink paint, and learn the labels to associate with each of these colours, is it reasonable to presume they can’t learn that Mr Smith is becoming Miss Smith? I would contend that no, it is not.
At this point you could exclaim “But Claire, an opinion is not prejudicial if the evidence favours it – what does the evidence say?”, at which point I would exclaim “Gotcha”.
In relation to prejudice, the meaning of evidence is quite clear: it is the evidence available to the person holding the view. If that person needs to ask the question, “what is the evidence?”, that person has no evidence to support their view – if they did they would instead cite their evidence – and thus the view is prejudicial.
For completeness, I don’t actually know what the evidence is to support or challenge the idea that children find it difficult to understand a person publicly transitioning gender. I have read a lot about the subject, and I have personal experience of relatively young people (mid-to-late teens mostly) discovering that I am transgender, and the consensus appears to be that, in fact, younger people have an easier time dealing with transition – or indeed other non-binary gender identities – than older people. My anecdotal evidence is that children – unless they have already been told that Mr W transitioning to Miss W is bad – simply don’t have a problem with it.
I’ve been particularly taken with this question because I have seen it asked in places I would not normally expect it to be asked. People who are by no means transphobic are asking the question while supporting a protest against transphobia, and this struck me as odd until I thought about articles I’d read on racism and sexism (and other *isms), and how people support equality but can still hold views that are racist and sexist (and other *ists).
We all old prejudicial views. That is a simple fact of the way our brains are wired. If we didn’t we wouldn’t need to worry about concepts such as privilege. The important issue is how you deal with those views when they are exposed as prejudice. Do you bury your head in the sand and say, “I’m not sexist! I’m not racist! I’m not transphobic! I’m not homophobic”, or do you say “Okay, good point, I need to reconsider this”. The former is irremediably prejudiced, the latter is not.
The Metro reported a death with the words
Classroom Miss who was a Sir is found dead.
The Sun initially reported the same death with the words
A MALE primary school teacher is believed to have killed himself just four months after angering parents by returning to class as a woman.
They later changed it to
Sir who became Miss is found dead after return to school
The Daily Mail reported the same death with the words:
Primary school teacher 32, who announced to pupils he was changing sex is found dead at home.
A woman has died, and her name was Lucy Meadows.
We don’t yet know for certain how or why Lucy died, but we do know that she was harassed and monstered by the press in life, and she has continued to be monstered by the press after her death. She was monstored and harassed for no other reason than she was a transsexual woman in transition who had the audacity to want to be left alone to teach.
We know that she was harassed to the extent that she was forced to complain to the PCC. We also know that she was forced to go to extensive measures to avoid press harassment. We know that the press treatment of her was outrageous. We do not know for certain if Lucy took her own life, and we do we do not know for certain that press intrusion into her life played a part. Any such suggestion would, of course, be speculation.
But we do know that her transition was none of the public’s business. We do know that the press delight in the salacious, and see transsexual women, transvestites and other gender non-conforming people as de facto salacious and therefore fair game, the consequences of their intrusion into extraordinarily private matters on their victims’ psychological well-being and private life be damned.
We also know that the press is institutionally transphobic. We know this because only days ago the Press Complaints Commission dismissed complaints about a virulently transphobic and hateful article on the Observer, on the grounds that it targeted a whole minority group, rather than singling out any specific individual for hate. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions as to whether that would wash with any other minority group.
This makes me angry.
Suicide within the trans* community is a huge issue.
The TMH study was the largest of its kind ever undertaken in Europe, with almost 900 respondents. As the researchers knew anecdotally that suicidal thoughts and experiences are a major issue for the trans community, there was a whole section dedicated to it in the survey. The key results are:
84% of respondents had thought about ending their lives at some point, a huge majority.
That 84% is a larger figure than any other minority group. And, of course, that 84% is almost certainly under-represented, depending upon how the researchers defined transgender (this is not consistently done, but often researchers only deal with people who have transitioned or are transitioning), and depending on how many people killed themselves before telling anyone – which happens with alarming regularity.
But to the press our vulnerable community is nothing more than salacious material to be used for the entertainment of the masses who lap up the “SHE WAS A HE” headlines like some freak show. It’s very difficult to have a positive self-image when the only representation you see of your community is as descriptions of freak shows and perverts.
“Will somebody think of the children”
When Lucy was outed by the national press, it was over the usual tired and familiar cries of “Won’t somebody think of the children”, re-inforcing the image that being trans* automatically makes someone a peadophile and a pervert. “How will we explain this to the children?”, went up the cry.
How do you explain Lucy’s premature death to the children?
I haven’t had much time to write here recently as I have a couple of other ongoing projects that are demanding my time; trust me though, it’ll be worth it when they’re done. I have a number of posts lined up, but it occurred to me that I haven’t discussed an issue that would make a lot of the posts I have in mind a lot clearer: the concept of “passing”, the concept of “privilege” and what “passing privilege” is and why it’s important. I was originally going to make this one blog post discussing all three issues, but after writing most of it, I realised that such a discussion would be far too long, so I’m going to break it down into three parts: this part, discussing privilege, a second part discussing passing, and a third part discussing why this matters, and why – in an ideal world – it shouldn’t.
What privilege is
If you have gotten involved in any discussion regarding sexism, racism or disability you may have come across the term “privilege”. Privilege is an important term in discussing equality, and I’ve noticed over time that the term risks being misunderstood and misused, so I thought I’d start by discussing what privilege is, and what it is not.
In one respect, we are all familiar with the term ‘privilege’. If a person is born into a wealthy family, most people can recognize that that person has an advantage in life over people born into less wealthy families. That person will have access to better education. They will on average find it easier to get into an Oxbridge university. Their family may have good connections in the business world, so that person may find it easier to find a lucrative career – that person is privileged. Most people understand this concept.
Most people can also recognise that we could argue until the cows come home what constitutes “wealthy” in the above context: whether or not another person is “wealthy” largely depends on the amount of money someone else has. So someone stacking shelves on the current government’s workfare program might see a person driving a BMW to an office in Reading as “wealthy”, and “privileged”. The person driving the BMW may or may not see themselves as privileged; but they might see someone driving to a better car, from a well-appointed house in London as being privileged. So the first thing most people can notice when discussing an idea of privilege that most of us can understand is, privilege is relative.
It turns out that the idea that privilege is relative is an extremely important concept. The reason it is important is when one moves away from discussing money – something that everyone is happy to gripe about – and starts discussing, for example, male privilege, or white privilege, or white male privilege, people in the “privileged” position start to get annoyed. These people start to get annoyed because they were born male, or white, or white male (or white female, or whatever) and they don’t see themselves as “privileged” in the sense that someone born into a wealthy family might see themselves as privileged.
Let’s look at a couple of examples: male privilege and white privilege. These are concepts you will see in discussions on racial equality and sexual equality. The two terms say two things: if you are male, you have an innate advantage in many situations over a person who is female. Whether this be job interviews, or getting your way in a meeting, a man generally has it easier in life than a woman. This is a fact of life. Similarly, a white person of a given gender generally has an easier life than a person of colour of the same gender. This is also a fact of life. Neither of these are very palatable facts, but they are by and large true. For most jobs, white men have an easier time getting jobs than non-white non-men.
What privilege is not
So privilege basically says that in any given situation some people have an innate – and often un-remarked – advantage over other people. But in order to fully understand what privilege is, it is important to understand what it is not.
Most importantly: privilege is not a stick to beat someone with.
Look at my first example, the example of the person born into a wealthy family. The chances are, when reading that, you assumed the person was a white male whose parents live in Britain (if you’re British). But that person could also be an immigrant from Romania – they could come from a wealthy family, they could have gotten an excellent education from this, and they could have been taught – at their own or their parent’s expense – at an Oxbridge university. They could also be female with African descent. Remember: privilege is relative. It is fluid, and who is in a privileged position changes. Most people are comfortable with the idea of “wealth” being a privileged position, but how many people would call “wealthy Romanian of African descent”, “privileged”?
We can go further. Remember: privilege is both relative and fluid. One example: for some bizarre reason, society assumes that midwives are female, and I recently learned that if a woman is likely to have a male midwife the woman has to give consent for this. As the friend who mentioned this pointed out – this is nuts: if there’s any kind of complication, it is most likely that the attendant doctor will be male, but the woman won’t be asked for prior approval. So in this specific case, women are – it would appear – in a privileged position over men seeking the same job. Telling the male midwife that “you are male, ergo you are privileged and you got you job because you’re male” is clear nonsense.
“Check your privilege”
One phrase that you will hear often if you hang around the right types of places long enough if “check your privilege”. Used correctly, it is intended as a gentle reminder that a person engaging in a discussion needs to be aware that in this circumstance, they are talking from a privileged position, and should take this into consideration in the discussion. It’s usually used when (for example) a man enters a discussion on feminism, and because that man himself would not consider, for example, sexually harassing a woman, he concludes that it therefore doesn’t happen. You’d be surprised how often this happens, so the phrase “check your privilege” was born. Sadly, for some people, the phrase “check your privilege” – usually interlaced with more colourful language – is used as a device to shut down dissenting voices, and use it even when the phrase is either not appropriate, or (as, for example the intersection of feminism and trans-equality) the person being spoken to is in factnot in a privileged position.
Privilege is an important concept in discussions on equality, but it’s important to remember that privilege is fluid: it is dynamic, and it is sensitive to context. A person born into wealth is not always privileged over a person who is not. A man is not always privileged over a woman. Similarly, a person who is in a privileged position to another person is not necessarily evil. Privilege is a description of a relationship of innate power, it is not – or at least it should not be – a description of a person’s character.
A few years ago a Danish paper published some cartoons depicting Mohammed in various unflattering poses. At the time, very little was thought about it until a few months later when some Muslim immams took those pictures into various mosques in the Middle East to show how badly the Western world was treating Muslims. A huge amount of offence was taken, a lot of rioting happened, and the cartoonists started receiving death threats. Many thousands of words were written as to whether or not it was right to cause insult – to deliberately offend. Many more thousand words were written in a very serious tone over whether or not any depiction of Mohammed should ever be printed given that it was de facto insulting to certain Muslims.
A few years ago the BBC decided to show a play on BBC 2 called “Jerry Springer the Opera”. It was a show that I’d seen live and thoroughly enjoyed, but at the time a lot of Christians got upset, and many thousand complaints were sent into the BBC and to Ofcom claiming that the programme was offensive to Christians. Much like the Christians who had protested outside both theatres where I’d seen it live, many of these Christians had not actually seen it, and were offended because they had been told it was offensive to Christians
A few years ago, a group of atheists got together to sponsor a bus advert saying “There’s probably no god now stop worrying and enjoy life”. Some Christians became offended at the idea that atheists could say this, many wrote to the ASA and one bus driver refused to drive his bus. In an ironic twist, the Christian Party – forgetting that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – decided to copy the advert in the run up to the election and put up an advert saying “There definitely is a God, so join the Christian Party”. Some atheists got upset and offended by this and complained to the ASA (clearly not knowing that the ASA has does not deal with election campaigning poster, which is the remit of the Electoral Commission).
A while ago, I discovered transvestite comedian Andrew O’Neill. From what I’ve seen on YouTube, he is absolutely hilarious, I’ve taken to describing him as “Eddie Izzard meets Death Metal” and at one point, we were hoping to book him for Reading Pride (sadly calendars clashed): I desperately want to see this guy performing live! He’s very good. Imagine my delight then, when I heard he was performing in Guildford in April! *clicks “buy”*
Computer says “Sign in, or Create Account”
Trying to buy a ticket for one event, Guilford live want me to “Sign in, or Create an Account”. I don’t want to “Create an account”. I don’t need to create an account The glive site does not need me to create an account, nor does it need me to give them a username and a password. It just needs my credit card number. They don’t *need* my daytime phone number (they demand I give them an e-mail address too – just how many means of communication do they absolutely need?!). They certainly don’t need me to opt-out of various “marketing preferences”. JUST LET ME BUY A TICKET.
That’s enough politics and introspection for now (normal politics and introspection to continue shortly). If you’re reading this blog at the moment you’d think life was all doom and gloom. Let’s talk about something more fun – let’s talk nail varnish!
Like many people, I hate Mondays. At the beginning of December I was having a particularly bad Monday. I had woken up late and there wasn’t enough time to do anything. Morning tea was made, teeth were cleaned, and then hey-presto it was time to leave for work. There was just one minor problem: I didn’t have time to take my nail varnish off, so I was going to have to go to work with my nails painted in gorgeous purple suede-effect OPI varnish.
I should say that going to work wearing nail varnish is not entirely without precedent for me: I have quite long nails, so I normally wear a clear varnish to protect them, and I’ve even been known to push the boat out and rebelliously wear a subtle sparkly varnish or a very subtle colour varnish. But something so blatant? That was new territory for me, and you know what happened? Precisely nothing. Sure a couple of people did a double-take at seeing my hands – most obviously a charming elderly chap at my bus stop into town, but that was it.
This was hugely liberating for me. I love my nails and I am an absolute sucker for nail varnish, and it is incredibly frustrating spending time getting my nails right, doing something funky with them (or plain, doesn’t always have to be funky) and then feeling as though I have to take the varnish off and undo the work the next day is very frustrating, and being able to think instead “What shall I do with my nails *this* week” has been so much fun.
The only reactions I’ve had have been hugely positive. One of the receptionists where I work said “I love your nails, if you ever decided to change careers..!” (that was my Rimmel Metal Rush Royal Blue, with a chrome tip). Then there was a woman in Superdrug – she looked bored out of her mind in the empty shop, but when she saw my nails, her face lit up “I LOVE your nails!”, she said, and we had a lovely chat while she rang up whatever it was I was buying. Most recently, there was a woman in Millets (interesting aside: no men have yet commented on my nails…!); I was wearing a rather striking silver/black ‘magnetic’ polish from MUA, which leaves a series of silver and black concentric circles on the nail after you hold a magnet over the wet polish – it is absolutely awesome stuff – she saw my nails, and I got what has now become a familiar friendly smile, “I love your nails!”, she said, “How do you do that?”, so we started talking nails – it turned out she was also big into nails – I’d only gone in to replace a woolly hat I’d left on the bus.
By far the most interesting conversations I’ve had though, have been with one of the ladies in the make-up department of the new Debenhams in Newbury. I first talked to her when I wanted to see if anyone in that branch of Debenhams sold anything like the purple OPI suede polish. The first person I spoke to didn’t know, “but I know who will”. What the woman I spoke to doesn’t know about nails, just is not worth knowing. “No”, she regretfully told me, “you won’t find anything like that in Newbury, but H&M do a matte finish top-coat. Get a sparkly MUA polish from Superdrug, and try that – might give you the same effect”. We ended up talking nails, and makeup. I went back there a few weeks later to see if they had any silver crackle-finish top coats (which was what I was playing with at the time). I asked a woman on about the only counter in that Debenhams that seemed to have any nail polish for sale, and she once again pointed me to the ‘the nails girl’ (her words, not mine!). As soon as she saw me, “Did you find the matte top coat?!”.
In the grand scheme of things, this probably may not seem terribly noteworthy but to me this has been a big deal, and ironically it has been a big deal because it has not been a big deal. For years I was terrified of people finding out that I’m transgender, and even since coming out I’ve been terrified of seeing me wearing nail varnish. Yet in the space of only a month and a bit, I already find it odd when my nails aren’t painted.
It would be irresponsible of me to write something like this without pointing out that I work for a very relaxed business. It has no dress code and to a certain extent eccentricity is almost expected in certain IT sectors. I am fortunate. I know people who have been reprimanded either directly or indirectly by their workplace for wearing nail varnish. I also can’t deny that there have been situations where I’ve almost subconsciously found my hands in my pockets when going past large vocal* groups of people (*drunk).
But for reasons I couldn’t really put my finger on, the whole experience has made me far more confident. Even on that first day, when this whole thing started purely by accident because I’d over-slept, a certain F*ck you attitude came over me that I’m simply not used to. I liked it.
As I said on Facebook shortly after: F*ck gender conformity. I like my nails.