A space for our voices

A couple of blog entries posted on the same day earlier this week have been making me think about the power and importance of “trans space”.

CN Lester wrote about Andrew Hodges’ biography of Alan Turing. They picked out a passage that beautifully illustrates the sheer emptiness, isolation and alienation that can come with growing up queer:

“The deprivation was not one of laws but of the spirit – a denial of identity. Heterosexual love, desire and marriage were hardly free from problems and anguish, but had all the novels and songs ever written to express them. The homosexual equivalents were relegated – if mentioned at all – to the comic, the criminal, the pathological, or the disgusting. To protect the self from these descriptions was hard enough, when they were embedded in the very words, the only words, that language offered. To keep the self a complete and consistent whole, rather than split into a facade of conformity, and a secret inner truth, was a miracle. To be able to develop the self, to increase its inner connections and to communicate with others – that was next to impossible.”

Like CN, this resonates with me as I reflect upon my own experiences as a trans teen. It was hard to find any representations of trans people, let alone any that weren’t deeply problematic. It was even harder to come by writings, art and stories by trans people, in which trans lives were rendered intelligible, human, possible. I felt like a freak, I felt like I was broken, ill, wrong. And I suffered largely in private. Needless to say, this wasn’t particularly good for my mental health.

This is why I feel that it’s so important to have trans people who are out, and trans people who produce art. It’s why I agree so strongly with Kat Gupta’s post about the trans tent at Nottinghamshire Pride. Kat writes:

There was something magical about being in a tent and being able to listen and watch people who articulated some of my fears and anxieties and desires. There were trans* people speaking and singing and playing about trans* experiences, and cis performers adapting and selecting their work to speak to us. Not us trying to eke out a trans* interpretation of a song or a poem, but them finding the points where we could understand each other. It was people exploring gender and all that came with it; negotiating the NHS, the harsh realities of genital surgery, the misery and joy we find in our bodies. […] In this tent we were able to do something special, and create a space that was visible and proud and joyful and intersectional and defiant.

In my previous post I waxed lyrical about how wonderful various acts were, and how much fun I had playing there myself as part of a band. Kat captures the totality of this experience, and the importance of having a space in which we can come together to share our stories and develop the self, avoiding the fate of Alan Turing.

Crowd outside the trans tent at Nottinghamshire Pride. Photo by Eriw Erif

Members of my family occasionally ask why I bother organising or contributing so much to queer or trans spaces. After all, isn’t there a larger audience for events with more of a broad appeal? Plus, since the goal is to achieve equality, surely it doesn’t help to just segregate ourselves?

I think these perspectives completely miss the point. Spaces centred around straight and cis people are everywhere. These spaces are automatically about straight/cis art, straight/cis voices. Queer spaces are relatively rare, and trans spaces rarer still. It means a lot to go to one of these rare, beautiful spaces knowing that your story will be told. This is why I wrote with so much enthusiasm about Poltical: A Gender last year,  and a similar vibe can be found in CN’s post about the Trans* Education and Determination conference (TRED). It would be wonderful if such spaces were less rare.

Moreover, many trans organisers and performers are very aware of the dangers that come with shutting ourselves off from the world. This is why spaces such as the trans tent, Political: A Gender and TRED are very deliberately open to all, and it’s why we are so often open to contributions from cis allies. It’s why trans issues are just one part of the lyrics I write for my band, and it’s why I’m always keen for us to play “straight” venues as often as possible.

So let’s continue to expand the possibilities of trans space and trans art. The trans tent alone featured poetry both epic and personal, acoustic music, hip-hop, opera, burlesque and punk. There’s so much that we can share! It doesn’t matter whether you’re an artist or a consumer of art, an organiser or an attendee, trans or cis. Come and join us in celebration. There’s so much we can build together.

2 thoughts on “A space for our voices

  1. Mr and Mrs “NORMAL” Joe Public do not read these posts nor do they attend the events of Gay Pride. What is there to be Proud of?? Sub-cultures are segregation by there very nature and only feed the “them and us”. Yes it’s difficult (to say the least) to have been born different but It”s not a handicap. Until Individuals stand up for themselves and get on with life, Integrate into society and stop the sub-culture, nothing will change.

    • Hello! I agree that it’s important for individuals to stand up for themselves, but I’m afraid I pretty much disagree with everything else you have to say. Here’s why…

      Mr and Mrs “NORMAL” Joe Public do not read these posts

      I write this blog mostly for a trans audience. I’m fully aware that your average cis person does not read the stuff I write here. That’s fine with me. I have a lot more to my life than being trans and I talk about that elsewhere, both on- and off-line.

      However, I’ve had plenty of cis people drop by this (through links or search engines) and make helpful, insightful or just generally pleasant comments, so you’re not completely right on this point. I ultimately write here for anyone who might come across this post.

      nor do they attend the events of Gay Pride

      Have you been to Pride events? The number of straight/cis attendees does vary a great deal from event to event, but in Birmingham and London there are always a lot of “normal” people watching the parades or wandering around stalls and events. One of the points of Pride is that they’re very public, and (in theory) open to all. One of my problems with Pride events is that they can be quite insular, but Nottinghamshire Pride was particularly fantastic because it took place in a massive field slap-bang in the city centre. This was LGBT culture made available to all. I saw a great variety of different people that day, including a whole bunch of (apparently) straight families.

      What is there to be Proud of??

      I asked this for many years. I mean, it’s not like my transness or my bisexuality are things I’ve *earned* through hard work, they’re just things I happen to be. So why bother being “proud”?

      I now realise that the point of “Pride” is that it counteracts Shame. Too many of us grow up hating ourselves to one degree or another. The point of “Pride” is to assert ourselves in the fact of opposition, both internalised and from wider society. Of course, Pride events aren’t to everyone’s taste, and that’s okay.

      Sub-cultures are segregation by there very nature and only feed the “them and us”.

      This is why I advocate “opening up” trans and queer cultural spaces. The point of such spaces isn’t to shut ourselves away from wider society, but to create a means by which we *can* talk about our experiences.

      Until Individuals stand up for themselves and get on with life, Integrate into society and stop the sub-culture, nothing will change.

      Yes, we change things by getting on with things, and standing up for ourselves. But we don’t change things by disappearing, or abandoning sub-cultural expressions of selfhood. For me, the perfect world would not need LGBT culture, but we’re not there yet.

      Trans liberation has only really taken off during the past couple of decades, and this is because it’s during this time that we’ve become more visible. There are now so many more trans role models, demonstrating not that it’s oh-so-important or wonderful to be trans, but that trans people can be sportspeople, scientists, artists, politicians. We need to be able to celebrate our lives and achievements, and there’s no reason why this can’t go hand-in-hand with being part of the wider world.

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