Friday, March 31, 2017

Making the Hidden Visible - Imaginary Playmates, Trans Visibility andSex Positivism

The picture above is me: out proud, sexy, unashamed, posing on a wall looking carefree and happy. I'm Trans-historied. My gender status is legally female. The photo was taken by my husband who is legally married to me here in the UK. Gay and Trans rights are so much better now than before. Indeed some question whether we still need to campaign and fight for them. I've even wondered so myself.

I grew up as a child with a secret, imaginary group of playmates.  So many kids have imaginary friends.  They provide a platform for rehearsing and exploring experiences outside the child's own. Lonely children find a companion that comforts them whether it be a friend or an animal.  It's all in your head.  When you're a Trans child, you live in your head.  The life you lead bears no resemblance to the one you need in order to help you thrive.  Little girls crave other girls to play with, I did too. Until I went to school it was Julie, the girl across the road. When I started school, that had to change. Boys are supposed to play ball with other boys, not skipping with the girls. Julie and I didn't play together after that. I made friends with Janet, another lonely soul in the playground but then her family moved away. Then I too became a loner, living inside my head with Janet and Julie living on as my imaginary playmates. Teachers told my Mum, with concern, that I was withdrawn and unsociable. Unknown to them, my imaginary life, though invisible to others, sustained me and held me up.  Looking back, the imaginary experiences are the ones I cherish most. They helped me keep the faith in who I was and develop as I needed to be.

As I write, today marks Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV). TDOV aims to promote acceptance of Trans people, safeguarding their rights and combatting hatred. Hatred relies on stereotyping groups of people and on self-limiting mindsets.  Too often these are fuelled by a press whose prevalent view of a Trans person is 'a man in a dress'. The woman inside is cruelly willed into forced invisibility. The man on the outside is seen as a fake to be condemned or ridiculed.

Ironically, more often than not I AM 'invisible' these days. Running a barista coffee business means that I am 'that smiley, happy girl who makes such nice coffee'. Apparently invisible in plain sight, an attractive woman working alongside her husband, I'm where I always wanted to be as a child. I'm simply a woman. 

Growing up I had, ironically, longed to be an ordinary girl like everyone else, blend in and be unexceptional. I was the boy who wanted to grow up and be a Mum and a wife, not a pilot or a policeman. I viewed the bullying and hatred I received as being my fault.  Becoming invisible seemed the way forward.

Even though I craved invisibility years ago, I can see now what a dangerous place it is.  You are benignly invisible if you stick to the rules and accept the norms that society demands. Step outside them and you are faced with a choice: Make yourself invisible again or make yourself scarce. An adult living in a conservative rural area, I rapidly discovered those norms were very restrictive indeed.  Step outside them, dare to be visible and you are a target. Those norms don't just exclude transgenders: A 'man in a dress' lies on a par with a woman who wears short skirts and low necklines; who owns her sexuality and sexual choices; who admits to enjoying sex and is willing to talk about it or who works in the porn industry.

As well as being a Trans-historied woman I am also a sex positive feminist. Sex positivism arose as a reaction against anti-pornography feminism. Slut shaming those who work in the porn industry relies on the flawed, patriarchal notion that sex is something that men enjoy and which women provide. A women however should be free to enjoy sex on her own terms in a mutual, consensual way. I believe that sexual choices should be a woman's own.  She should never be shamed, stigmatised or judged for them. She should be respected as an equal partner in a joyful act that is an inherent part of our adult lives. If she chooses to model and celebrate her bodily beauty that is her decision. If she chooses to be celibate, that too is her choice. Sex positivism is not about lots of sex but about open discourse and the removal of stigma from sexual choices. However, if you air ideas like that in a provincial, semi-rural community, you get branded a slut.

Being invisible with either gender identity or sex positivism then, involves hiding aspects of yourself.  When we hide we get smaller, shrink into ourselves and become islands in an uncaring sea.  It is a dismal place to be.  More importantly, invisibility breeds ignorance in others.  Our Trans or Positivist invisibility allows others to pretend there is bland homogeneity and that diversity in sex or gender is deviance. It also prevents others seeing they are not alone.

I am lucky. I live and work now in one of the most vibrant, sexually accepting, gay friendly cities in Europe.  Manchester is full of tolerance and acceptance. I can walk reasonably safely, hand in hand with my bi-gender partner when she presents as a woman. My city hosts the UK's national Gay radio station and one of the largest Prides. There is a safe zone in the form of the Gay Village where I can party. Our Lord Mayor is proudly and openly Gay and I live in one of the hippest, coolest parts of town. From outer space however it is a tiny rainbow on a huge grey background. As President Trump begins to erode Gay rights in the US, Putin stifle them in Russia and other countries kill and imprison Gays, you begin to see that rainbow fade. 

The woman in the picture above would need to cover up to please so many people, even though it would stop her keeping cool. She is still considered a man in many countries, her marriage to her husband is not legally recognised. Today, visibility for sexual orientation, gender and sexual freedom is more needed than ever. 

Hugs, Jane xx

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