I’m a trustee of a charity in Kent that often piques peoples’ interest. TG PALS supports transgender people, and people occasionally think I’m transgender because of my relationship with them.
I remember being caught off-guard once when somewhere whispered to me, “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.” My initial response was, “Bloody hell, which one?” It took me an age to realise that she thought I was trans. I wasn’t offended by that assumption – let ’em think that if they want; I’ve not cared what people think about me before, and I don’t propose to start now – but it made me think; perhaps I should explain why I support a trans charity. Because I’m a human being.
It’s as simple as that. No, honest, it really is. You see, humanity is more diverse, rich, and varied than we give it credit for; there are more spectra, thought processes, and ways of existing than we admit. You can be gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, or a shade of grey. You can be male, female, transgender … and, I learn, there are other variants as well. I try to understand, but sometimes I fail – and, you know what? That’s okay. I don’t have to understand it all; I’d like to, but it’s not compulsory. It’s more important to accept the variety that people have than try to analyse every last piece of the puzzle.
That’s the other thing; we try to categorise and label and organise and understand. Of course we do; that’s human nature. We are pattern-seeking mammals – we’re scientists who can be rational and thoughtful when we put our minds to it – and this thirst for knowledge prevents us from lapsing (even further) into superstition and fear. But that same scientific quest we are all on desperately wants to understand everything. Why does that person feel like that? What’s it like to feel like that? Some people translate those thoughts into fear and react like demented, bigoted idiots.
In any case, people are different. All this binary nonsense that we hear so much about – male or female, straight or gay, etc, etc – has always been something of a farce. It’s only now, however, that we’ve started to develop the language, understanding, and empathy to begin dealing with it. Some people are born into the wrong body; they are born male when they should be female, or vice versa. Do I understand it? No, of course I don’t; how can I? I can discuss it in the theoretical sense; but people experience it every single day, so why shouldn’t we, as a civilised society, correct the flaws by aligning a consenting body to a consenting mind? What, precisely, is wrong with that?
I first encountered TG PALS when I had been invited to a day-long seminar on LGBT+ issues at the University of Kent. Intrigued- especially by the “+” – I accepted the invitation. In the lecture theatre, a group of transgender people (some of whom belonged to TG PALS) sat down in front of me, and I realised that I knew precisely nothing about the subject – and I wanted to.
Thankfully, Heather Ashton – TG PALS’ chief executive – made contact with me a couple of weeks later, and we were able to do some work together. I also got the opportunity to be incredibly nosy and speak to some trans people, who were all very patient with me as I pestered them with questions and tried to get rid of my assumptions. That bit took some time, and I’m probably still working on it now. It was when I attended one of the support groups that a simple thought hit me; “They’re just human beings.” In that support group, I met legal secretaries, lorry drivers, PhD students, accountants, managers, lawyers … I saw past the “outer shell” and realised that I didn’t give two hoots as to the gender of these people.
I’ve had the opportunity to interview people more formally as well; I met a trans woman who had ended up as an incredibly senior executive for a national firm, and had been badly treated by friends and colleagues after coming out – but wonderfully accepted by others. I spoke to another trans woman who, when I asked the open question “How would you define yourself?”, answered (with a smile); “I’m just an ordinary woman living her life.” Quite.
I was honoured to be made a trustee of TG PALS. As a result, I’ve been to a policeman’s ball (don’t worry, I’ve made all the jokes myself), helped to represent the charity at a meeting of faith groups in Canterbury, and signposted people to their stand at a college’s diversity week.
Why do I do this? Because I love the diversity of humanity. Let’s start accepting peoples’ differences. Can a non-trans person really sit on the board of a trans organisation? Of course – as long as trans people are in the driving seat and set their own direction. Perhaps the true test will be when these labels don’t even need to exist any more. Wouldn’t that be lovely?