Yesterday, around the UK, from London to Edinburgh, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge, tens of thousands marched for Europe in an attempt to #paintitblue ahead of parliamentary discussion of the 4-million-plus second referendum petition. Peter Tatchell joined the march and Eddie Izzard, in high heels, gave chase…
Orange is the New Black
Meanwhile, Theresa May was away in orange declaring to the US and China that “Brexit means Brexit“, “Free trade means free”, and Britain’s independence would be great – how quick they change their tune, or rather outfits?
Political Language turning the air Blue
“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” – George Orwell
In an article in the Economist about how Republicans and Democrats in the US use political language, it was asserted that liberals try to talk facts and policies whilst conservatives are unafraid to aim for the gut.
“…conservatives use language more effectively than liberals in communicating their deepest values” – George Lakoff, The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic
The language of politics has also become the toxic language of hate, turning the language of the streets, rallies and even political advertising, blue – not pro-EU, but xenophobia and anti-immigrant fear and racism, both leading up to and since Brexit.
All Black takes on Pink Beret
In other news, europhile Eddie Izzard in hat and heels had his pink beret “headgear stolen near Downing Street by a man dressed in all black with a balaclava covering half his face. Despite wearing high heels, Izzard gave furious chase as police caught the man and tore back his beret while he was pinned to the floor. He then dusted off the pink garment and placed it back on his head before marching to Parliament Square.” – Guardian
Eddie Izzard said: “There was one guy… he went up and snatched my beret – which has a British flag and an EU flag on – and he marched off, he stole it.” The comedian said of the police that they “did fantastic”:
“…there was an inspector, some other officers in there, they took him down. I got my beret back, but it’s gone off as evidence – my beret is now in evidence. I’m out, transgender for 31 years and if anyone steals my pink beret, I’ll get it back.” – BBC
Just to keep things serious, here’s The Pink Berets from the movie Hop (2011):
Now let’s stop obsessing about what trans people or female politicans wear and get back to what really matters. Oh ok, here’s a quick survey of what female leaders are wearing this season, Eddie – get on trend!
Spoilers are okay after midday, but sadly it was no April Fools Day joke that the biggest little man of comedy, Ronnie Corbett, to whom even Miranda Hart “looked up to”, died at 85, yesterday – if only he’d held out another day the Internet would have been awash with April Fools lingering doubts. It seems appropriate to light four candles (aka ‘fork handles’) in tribute and say with him:
“It’s good night from me – and it’s good night from him.”
He was all about double entendres, misconstrued meanings, and great comic timing:
“West Mersea police announced tonight that they wish to interview a man wearing high heels and frilly knickers, but the Chief Constable said they must wear their normal uniforms.”
“We’ve just heard that in the English Channel, a ship carrying red paint has collided with a ship carrying purple paint. It is believed that both crews have been marooned.”
“There was a fire at the main Inland Revenue office in London today, but it was put out before any serious good was done.”
A History of Pranking
The job of kingship has historically been a stressful one, and alongside advisers and seers, royalty often had court jesters around to lower the tone and raise the mood.
In the late 14th century Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set on March 32nd, a nonsense date, i.e., 1 April. Whilst this may be a copyist’s error, the tale itself is full of comic irony.
April 1st jesting is attested throughout the early 16th century in French and Flemish customs and several origin stories suggest it was due an end March to 1 January calendar change in Britain or France.
The first British reference is in 1686, and in 1698 people were tricked into going to the Tower of London for the annual “washing the lions” – a fake event that was still conning people as late as 1857!
On the eve of April Fool’s 1864, the Evening Star of Islington, London, announced that a “grand exhibition of donkeys” would be held the next morning at the Agricultural Hall. Next day, a large crowd gathered outside the hall until they realised that they themselves were the donkeys on display!
While it goes by the name of All Fools, April Fools’ or April Fool’s Day, as well as Poisson d’Avril “April Fish” in French, it’s been around much longer. In earlier times and different calendars, our current 1st April would still have coincided with the advent of Spring and the end to the darkness of winter. So it is a season to be celebrated and it seems from of old to have attracted festivities, pranks and jokes.
Ancient Persian Sizdah Bedar
Nowruz, the 13th day of the Persian New Year falls on April 1/2 and in Iran this is still a day for jests going back over 2500 years, possibly the oldest pranking tradition in the world. It is called Sizdah Bedar “13 Bedar” and may be part of the origin of April Fools but it is uncertain how it may have spread from ancient Persia. The 13th of the month Farvardin is celebrated as a day to “go out”, be-dar in Persian, and have fun outdoors and pray for spring rains, indeed at midday the defeat of the Demon of Drought by the Angel of Rain was celebrated. Zoroastrian beliefs that “laughter and joy symbolize the throwing away of all bad thoughts” account for some of the merriment on Sizdah Bedar. There are also some beliefs that Sizdah Bedar meant “13 going out/getting rid of” and unlucky 13 and all its bad luck was disposed of on this day.
The Roman festival of Hilaria, held on March 25, also had similar themes of joy and jest. March 25, until a few centuries ago (the French moved their calendar and year-end in 1564) was New Year’s Day and part of a week-long festival until April 1. “The Day of Joy” (Hilaria) celebrated the resurrection of Attis, Cybele’s consort – Cybele was mother of the gods. The whole Agdistis, Attis, Cybele, Galli mythology and worship is full of interesting gender asides…
Back in 1957, before the British were so accustomed to pasta, the BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast a documentary hoax showing spaghetti growing on trees which convinced many, especially with the serious authority lent it by anchorman Richard Dimbleby!
The great spaghetti spoof harvest joke ranks no#1 in the Museum of Hoaxes top 100! Other hoaxes have included Alabama changing the value of Pi to a biblical value of “3” or Burger King making a “Left-handed Whopper”.
In 1976 National Humor Month was founded by comedian and author of 53 books on humour, Larry Wilde, Director of The Carmel Institute of Humor. “It is designed to heighten public awareness on how the joy and therapeutic value of laughter can improve health, boost morale, increase communication skills and enrich the quality of one’s life.”
Most newspapers carry at least one April Fool’s story buried somewhere in the paper and it is fun to guess which it is. Sadly, our crazy world means that many real stories appear to be jokes but are not.
Last year saw organic giraffe milk being offered at Paignton Zoo, Dodo and chips being eaten in 18th century Bristol leading to their extinction, and Yoyo the macaroni penguin laying a golden egg – and, no, its name wasn’t the April Fool, Eudyptes chrysolophus is a yellow crested penguin drawing its name from an 18th century Dandy fashion dubbed Maccaronism, a “flamboyant or excessive ornamentation”.
In modern times, there are comedians everywhere, including and especially in politics, well jokes anyway. There seem to be more fools trying to lead countries and even some comedians considering election, e.g., Sandi Toksvig, Eddie Izzard and in Italy, Giuseppe Piero “Beppe” Grillo.
If only Donald Trump’s views on abortion, women, Muslims, Mexicans, immigration, equal marriage, etc, were an April Fools Day joke, as it is he and his views are the joke that Democrats and rational people worldwide must hope fall flat rather than get elected.
The last day of Women’s History Month, the day before April Fool’s, is the International Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV), 31 March. Since 2009, it has sought to celebrate transgender positivity in contrast to the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) events around 20 November that draw attention to the high levels of violence and murder that trans people suffer in some countries. Even where murder is less likely, bullying, harassment, and discrimination can be part of the transphobic package that can add to the likelihood of suicide, which some 40% of trans people attempt, and twice that number, consider.
TDOV is an opportunity to portray positive role models, to let the many trans just coming out know that “it gets better“. I’ve spent ten plus years ‘out’ and it’s been a rocky road, with the almost requisite marriage break-up, suicide attempts, looks in the street, and transphobic abuse online. But that need not be everyone’s experience and for many, it is getting easier, with better support and a more accepting society.
Ironically, many trans people don’t want to be visible, they’d rather not be noticed, hopefully passing as fellow human beings in a crowd. Inevitably, some of us stand out more than others, some by choice, some by fate. Don’t always assume a trans person wants to be recognised or feted as one, many would rather be seen as your common or garden variety man or woman. I’m of the louder and more visual variety, who’ll probably die still not conforming to gender stereotypes and expectations.
Non-Binary leads to inevitable visibility
I’ve found, indeed, that being non-binary is a better fit for me than the discrete categories of man or woman, male or female, boy or girl. I, personally, don’t mind whether anyone sees me as a “real woman” or not, I know basic biology, although mine is more complex and many people exist that makes one think again about binary sex default and gender constructs.
I am, however, also not a “real man”, that too is fine! Perhaps, as one of my godchildren once cheekily remarked to me upon opening the door, saying, “Half-ladies first”, I am a “Shim”, also his delightful invention. Other people should be respected, however they prefer to be addressed.
Whilst 2014 has been regarded as the “Transgender tipping point”, 2016-17 seems to be the year of Non-Binary Genderqueer and Genderfluid. In January, National Geographic ran a “Gender Revolution” special issue, and this March, TIME Magazine ran with “Beyond He or She”.
Half of young people now see gender as a spectrum and identify their own sexuality between gay and straight. Most now know someone who is trans and/or non-binary, and they are broadly accepting, the best it has ever been, teaching older adults the way to be around identity and expression. Whilst traditional feminists regard gender as a construct, it is young women who are most likely to see it as a spectrum, blurring the lines between gender and sex. Some 22% of young women identify as other than 100% female.
To be honest, I haven’t had it too hard, people have been accepting, and although gender dysphoric, at times I’ve been euphoric to finally be myself. Even with some trials and tribulations, it has been worth it.
My ten-year journey as Norfolk’s “most reluctant transsexual” – as my psychiatrist once called me, has recently closed one chapter and turned the page to another. After nearly 6 years on hormones my resistance towards surgery shattered and I went ahead with a version of GRS that suited my identity and needs. It has made me a happier, healthier person, with no regrets. Rather surprisingly, to myself at least, it has improved my other mental health condition, bipolar, for now at least, with just pockets of extreme downs, rarer hypomanic highs, and many more days of productivity and calm.
In going ahead with surgery I found my mind changed as much as my body. It really was life-changing, even saving, surgery. Whilst I had near constant doubts leading up to it, I’ve had none since that no-going-back day of 6 February 2016, and felt as much lighter between the ears as between the legs. I feel like a psycho-emotional brain tumour has been removed, I have more space in my head, in my thoughts and feelings, no longer obsessed and disturbed by gender identity. I feel no more female, just less encumbered and more myself. Oddly, I feel just as non-binary, non-conformist as ever, and, if anything, less gendered, though more comfortable in my body.
Prevalence of transgender people
I am but one of millions of trans people worldwide, more than a million in the USA alone, perhaps 300-600,000 in the UK or more. The NHS used to say that there were around 1-in-30,000 people born male (AMAB) transitioning to female (MTF) and 1-in-100,000 people born female (AFAB) transitioning to male (FTM). Those serious underestimates are reflected in the huge waiting lists of 1000s of people to access the handful of UK Gender Identity Clinics (GICs).
Given that the incidence of trans people seeking NHS help is now around 7,000 new referrals p.a., figures over an adult working lifetime would suggest a prevalence of 300,000-600,000 adults, around 0.5%-1% of the population, 1-in-200 or 1-in-100 people, perhaps more. In addition, For every trans person not seeking HRT or surgery there are four or five feeling and presenting as gender questioning or non-conforming. Recent surveys suggest 2.5% may identify as non-binary, 1.75% may be born intersex, and 2% may identify as trans or genderfluid. Overlap between these populations may suggest around 5% total, 1-in-20 people. This isn’t to conflate intersex with trans, just that some can be both, and it shows the degree of sex and/or gender atypicality in the population as a whole.
Visible Trans Persons
In the UK we have many visible trans already such as the comedian, actor and now marathon-addict, Eddie Izzard. Other trans comedians include Bethany Black and Andrew O’Neill. Then there’s the arts writer and ceramicist, Turner Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry. In the world of journalism, there’s LGBT Pink List-topping radio and print journalist Paris Lees, along with several contributors to the Guardian newspaper such as Jane Fae, Juliet Jacques, and Roz Kaveney. In the field of law and diversity, Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester – Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns, formerly of Press for Change, Rachel Reese of the University of Law, law partner Clare Fielding, and barrister, Caroline Harrison, QC.
In sport, there’s recently-out boxing promoter, Kellie Maloney, and MMA fighter Roxeanne/Alex Reid. In business, there is Kate Craig-Wood, an entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s largest IT groups. Musicians like CN Lester, Thomas Dolby’s son Harper, and a magician, Fay Presto. In politics, there are several trans people who have stood as councillors or for election, across the political spectrum. On television, there are actors and a spate of reality TV stars. Among people who came out in the 1960s and 70s, there’s models April Ashley and Caroline Cossey, and writer, Jan Morris – all well known British women with open transgender histories. I could go on as I know of hundreds of trans lawyers, doctors, activists in public life, here in the UK alone.
In the USA, Janet Mock, among others have blazed the way by being out and public in their defence of being themselves, creating a tipping point of trans visibility, perhaps leading to the timing of former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.
Also, recently, we’ve seen big names like Lana and Lilly Wachowski of the Matrix films, Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me. Actors like Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne (“Dirty Sexy Money”), Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Calpernia Addams. Nor are “Gender Outlaw” author Kate Bornstein or Jennifer Boylan to be forgotten. Dr Marci Bowers, is an American gynaecologist and surgeon and actually carries out gender/sex-reassignment surgery. There’s the US biologist and author of “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan Roughgarden.
The names above are just a sprinkling of the probably tens of millions of trans and gender-variant people million worldwide.
Yesterday was the International Trans Day of Visibility (ITDoV/TDoV), as such I shrugged off my Harry Potter cloak of invisibility and ‘outed’ myself – oh no I did that 7 years ago, or rather my partner did that for me! Ironically, as transgender people we are often all too visible to society if we do not “pass” well – something that many trans aspire to and many find psychologically and socially distressing if not achieved. What is true, however, is that for every trans you notice another 9 or 99 are invisible, because they’ve either disappeared into the general hubbub of society and are accepted as people first, and gendered persons of trans history second, or, they may be part of the invisible iceberg of trans not yet out.
This latter group, for whom gender identity becomes a self-aware issue typically by the age of 7 may on average stay hidden till coming out in their 40s. If families, partners, media and society were more accepting, less judgemental and ridiculing, then I am quite sure more would be out and visible. Perhaps, like International Coming Out Day, today is a day we can celebrate increasing safety for more trans to come out, not to be ‘outed’ as I was at first. People call me brave for being ‘out’, but I had no choice, being ‘outed’ to friends and family by my then partner. By then it was “in for a penny in for a pound”, a “sink or swim” choice.
Transgender Day of Visibility was started in 2009 by trans activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker, of Michigan, USA. It began as a Facebook event but grew to encompass all kinds of awareness and visibility-raising events.
Events on the day have included protests, actions, sit-ins, poetry, educational and social events, anything to show that the transgender community is a valuable part of society to be accepted and respected.
The prevalence of transgender people in our communities is a hotly debated subject and one which is subject to several studies that are each seen as underestimates by the next one to be carried out. Numbers are made all the more likely to be on the low side by the difficulty of polling people who are not out or maybe trying to live discreet post-surgical lives. Surgery figures may only reflect those via recordable national health clinics and not those going privately or abroad for surgery.
Similarly being trans covers everyone from transsexuals at various stages of hormonal and/or surgical transition, occasional and full-time crossdressers/transvestites, and some trans who identify as a third or non-gender outside the binary of male and female.
Whilst transsexuals may represent just 0.1% of the population, non-surgical trans may be 1% or higher as only a fraction pursue surgery and many are not ‘out’ to everyone. Figures as high as 1.5% have been quoted and the numbers coming out each year are escalating as exponential rates as it becomes more safe to do so. I live in a city of 200,000 adults and know over 100 local trans personally and of another 50-100+. There will obviously be those I don’t know and those not out yet so 1-in-1000 is a gross underestimate and yet that is a figure considered high by the NHS.
The best thing you can do on this Transgender Day of Visibility and on every day following it is to reduce the tacit acceptability of transphobia in humour, toilet/bathroom access, and general gendered sexism and stereotyping. Allowing teens to grow up in the gender or expression they are comfortable with. Encouraging teens to be free to be tomboys and/or effeminate, irrespective of birth gender.
In the UK we have many visible trans already such as the comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, Turner Prize winning artist and speaker Grayson Perry, LGBT Pink List topping radio and print journalist Paris Lees, several contributors to the Guardian newspaper such as Jane Fae, Juliet Jacques, Roz Kaveney; Prof of Equalities Law at Manchester Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns and many more besides. In business there is Kate Craig-Wood, an entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s largest IT groups. There’s comedians Bethany Black and Andrew O’Neill, and several other comics too, musicians like CN Lester, Thomas Dolby’s son Harper, and a magician, Fay Presto. I could go on and know of 100s of trans lawyers, doctors, activists in public life here in the UK alone.
In 2011 Channel 4 broadcast My Transsexual Summer and launched 7 British trans people into the limelight including friends of mine like Donna Whitbread, as well as Maxwell Zachs, Sarah Savage, Drew Ashlyn Cunningham, Lewis Hancox, Raphael Fox, and Karen Gale. Big Brother (UK and worldwide) has seen several trans winners and contestants including Nadia Almada, Luke Anderson, Lauren Harries, Alex Reid and Rodrigo now Rebekah Lopez.
April Ashley, Jan Morris and Caroline Cossey are all well known British women with open transgender histories. In the US Janet Mock, among others have blazed the way by being out and public in their defence of being themselves. Recently we’ve seen big names like Lana Wachowski of the Matrix films, Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me. Actors like Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne (“Dirty Sexy Money”), Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Calpernia Addams, who recently advised Jared Leto on his Oscar winning role in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”. Nor is “Gender Outlaw” author Kate Bornstein to be forgotten. Dr Marci Bowers, is an American gynaecologist and surgeon and actually carries out gender/sex-reassignment surgery. There’s the US biologist and author of “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan Roughgarden.
The names above are just a sprinkling of the hundreds of thousands of out trans people worldwide and possible even over a million or more yet to come out, I mean 1-in-1000 it would be 6-7 million worldwide. Here’s hoping that more trans feel comfortable being more visible each day as that would not only make their lives happier but society itself all the more accepting and embracing, which is good for everyone. We are not invisible nor scary – but a little afraid ourselves, talk to us. For more information about the transgender spectrum visit www.genderagenda.net.