Saturday 1 July 2023

Thoughts on Pride 2023 ("And those who identify as attack helicopters")

My new employer is rated among the top companies for LGBTQ+ inclusivity. That's why I chose them out of multiple offers, all of which actually paid more money. People here are openly queer. We have our pronouns in our work profiles. Everybody uses the "singular they" naturally, even with gendered first names. Nobody assumes because you're a Sarah, you're a "she", or a "he" because you happen to be called Tom.

After two months there, I still have mental whiplash.

See, I've worked in cis-normative and hetero-assuming workplaces so long, I basically can't cope yet. I tread carefully, and I'm almost a little intimidated, fearing that my behaviour, which has been modulated to fit into a cis/hetero workplace, will end up offending people, or I trip up or make a mistake. At the same time, it's liberating. I haven't realised how relaxing it is. It's not just the industry (media) versus banking/finance, it's everything. Everything and everybody is more colourful, open, human and genuine. Possibly the rose-coloured glasses will come off and I find something that annoys me about the new place, or maybe I have some kind of employment-related PTSD that some part of me is waiting for the downside.

So, my employer put on a Pride party (it was organised and run by the LGBTQ+ network), and I went. I didn't originally want to - I'm not much for parties, or alcohol, and the combination of both I find really unpleasant - but a friend (who also now works at the same company) went so I decided to go too. First lesson: queer people getting drunk is much more chilled and fun than cisstraights getting drunk. No unpleasant experiences, in fact, it all felt silly and joyful, as we sat on the comfy chairs on the lawn in front of the main building, I had a virgin margarita, and we watched and listened to the live drag acts. I was honestly surprised how much this heavy introvert liked it. (Plus, it gave me an idea for the book I'm writing, so thank you, Yshee Black and the others!)

But, as the organisers said, "let's not forget that Pride isn't just a party, it's also a protest." The same drag acts we were enjoying are under pressure from threats and closures and cancellations because of the UK's atrocious policies, which are very clearly coming from the very top - the Tories have decided to go full "culture war", and they're persecuting the LGBTQ+ community, and singling out the "T", and in that dragnet they also catch the non-binary folks and everybody who doesn't do "gender" in the way that the narrow-minded among the cis people like.

In the fun (hanging with a friend, sitting chilling on a lawn, laughing about a drag queen's jokes), I couldn't help feeling sad and angry (and a host of other feelings I can't yet verbalise in public, as it were, but it has to do with regret and pain and self-compassion and tenderness).

I mean, these kids make me hopeful. I'm quite optimistic that the arch of human history bends towards justice, not dystopia (and not even species extinction), but the UK, its socio-political climate scares the fuck out of me. I'm historian enough to be hopeful in the long run, and too much historian to not be scared in the short term. 

Healthcare provision for queer people is already a joke. Even 10+ years back when I went to a trans* folk meeting, the way to access care was to "go private", and addresses of places to get top/bottom surgery were traded like some City folks would trade the contact details of their drug dealer (I assume - my life in the City didn't involve drugs). Since then, clinics have closed and accessing gender-affirming care is harder than ever. Astonishingly, my employer offers two years' healthcare support for trans* folks (assessment and accessing care), after which point, you might be able to switch over to private options or other.

On an even darker note, mental health support is possibly a worse issue. If you happen to come out of an abusive environment, or maybe a global health emergency, or maybe just life with any kind of need for support, you're basically screwed. I looked into getting some mental health care, and the waiting list at a charity-supported place was 3-4 months. I didn't even bother trying to go through the normal NHS. If you pay privately, you're seen the same week, of course. If you're poor, or your disposable income has been eaten up by sky-rocketing energy and food bills, or your mortgage just doubled or tripled because of the Tories' irresponsible and social-darwinist policies, you're shit out of luck (I'm glad I got 5 months' of therapy to deal with some stuff that happened in my late teens/early twenties, and the total fuck-up that my family was - and I didn't even scratch the surface of some issues I have buried really deep inside, but I know they're there and for the moment I can deal).

But the thing is, being non-cis (being trans*, or non-binary or just not performing gender as expected) is a huge emotional and mental burden. It's like running the same marathon everybody else is running, but at some point on the first few kilometers or so, the crowd on the sidelines (or maybe one or multiple of your fellow runners) take a metal bar to your ankles and thighs and knees, and you get up again, in pain, and a few kilometers later, it happens again. And behind that curve, on the steep climb, it happens again, and some are lucky and don't get hit hard and complete the race, and others have their bones broken and get beaten to death (look up stats for domestic partner violence against trans* folk if you think this metaphor is hysterical/overblown).

I guess we'd be okay if all runners were like us, or everybody in the crowd, but no, we have to function and perform in a hostile environment at all times, while dealing with the same shit every other person has to deal with: money and career, family, housing, maybe kids, maybe frail parents, except trans* folks struggle accessing support, mental health, even normal healthcare, and public discourse is intensely hostile, further amped up by TERF wizard lady and her cohorts. Trans* folk have fewer resources to deal with (on average) much tougher lives.

It's no wonder most of us are resilient as hell. We gotta be. But we have the bruises and broken bones, and we remember the ones that didn't make it.

We exist in a super hostile environment, and frankly I think cisstraights would rather we just "go away" and "shut up", and belittle our actual needs (toilets, anyone?). It's where the jokes come from: "Oh yeah, and those who identify as attack helicopters" or "litter boxes for those who identify as cats". Those are "jokes" brought into circulation by conservatives - and isn't it striking how humans are either turned into machines or animals - two ways of taking away our humanity (I mean, sure, I wouldn't mind being an Apache - but don't ask me what I'd do with my turrets and rockets, chances are, some bigots would get blown up, and I wouldn't feel pain and I could have a mechanic replace the parts that are beginning to creak/not function as well as they did). 

It's not about "choice", it's identity. The very core part of your being, that secret small part of you that often only speaks while you lie awake at night in your bed and you know is TRUE, when everything else isn't, or is to a much lesser degree.

It's not about litter boxes. It's about seeing - and respecting - the humanity in somebody who is different. I'm still hopeful. I start to believe that the next generations will get this shit sorted. They already know that the cat litter and attack helicopter jokes are transphobic dogwhistles, and not funny at all.

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