I started to write this as I was angry, and that is never a good reason to write anything. Yesterday was a very mixed day but it left me feeling that people can be both good and bad at times. But as I thought more about the strange mixture of experiences that had come my way in the space of that one day I decided that it illustrated why I offer to help organisations deal with transgender people in a better way. The route to that conclusion may be roundabout but I hope it is worthwhile staying with the journey.
It was Sunday and I was planning to combine two things in one trip to town. First of all I had a transgender support group meeting to go to. It is quite unusual for these to be held in the middle of a busy shopping centre at a weekend but I wanted to find out more about it. It also gave me the opportunity for a shopping trip with my daughter.
The week leading up to this quite ordinary shopping outing had been difficult. I have followed the controversy over comments by Germaine Greer about trans women. The arguments over this left me feeling less confident, a common thing in trans people of all types. I don’t attract much attention but will always look slightly odd to those who look closely. On this day it seemed more people than usual were looking. So stepping out into a busy shopping centre I was not quite as strong minded as I would like. A man shouting at me in the middle of the shopping crowd didn’t help this one bit. Such things are unfortunately all too common and on this occasion my daughter was, I think, prepared to confront the man if she could have found him.
First stop was to John Lewis where I wanted to buy a new home telephone. The staff there are always very good and in this case were especially helpful. That their customer is quite clearly trans doesn’t matter to them. I suspect that is the result of good training and management. After my meeting we continued to do some clothes shopping. In one shop the assistant almost visibly lit up when she passed close to me and realised I was trans. She was very helpful and chatty. Perhaps she will win in the “who had the most interesting customer” discussion later on. She might even have been pleased to put into practice training on dealing with different types of customer. Either way I never mind that sort of recognition as it is well intentioned.
Back at home I continued to read reactions to the Germaine Greer story. One lengthy comment on social media played on my mind more than the rest. This was the source of my later anger. The writer was in fact putting her argument well though it was a viewpoint I could not agree with. Essentially it was about how she does not regard trans women as women since they have not experienced womanhood and its trials from birth. She cited experiences such as PMS, childbirth, fear and wariness walking in the street of potential rapists and similar such points. In a way she has a point but there was an underlying principal that was worrying me. It suggests that to be part of a community, in this case that of being a woman, you had to have accumulated sufficient common shared experiences from birth. So I started to think about how that principle might apply to other groups of people. Can you not be regarded as properly deaf unless you were born without hearing? Or are you not sufficiently disabled if you are wheelchair bound as a result of a car accident instead of being born without legs? Even worse, does a woman who has not suffered some of these things not count as a real woman? I may not have been born female but my chances of being sexually assaulted are just as high. Abuse in the street is a constant hazard as I found while out yesterday. And I have to learn about these things in just as hard a way now as a teenage girl might do, with some additional problems thrown in for good measure.
I am lucky in that I am not particularly prone to depression, and I have the support of friends and family. But the day left me in a very low mood. I will bounce back quickly, but others will not. I know what I am but would like others to see who I am.
So what was the conclusion I promised at the beginning of this article? We teach the staff in all organisations to respect diversity both within the workforce and in our customers, patients and clients. We learn to look at who someone is and not what they are. This is important as we start to understand that this brings benefits to everyone involved. The staff in the two shops were good examples of this. Attempts to exclude people from our community simply because they did not start out a particular way seems to be a very bad way to go. This is the reason why I offer help for organisations to understand transgender issues.