This incident is probably number 1 in my (yet to be defined) top 10 Transphobic incidents that pushed me deeper into the closet with the knowledge that being trans is a deeply shameful and disgusting thing. I don’t say it to humiliate or express anger at him – He is a product of his time an upbringing and in the days of this incident trans people were much rarer in mainstream culture.
I really struggle to remember how old I was at the time. I was definitely post university so maybe 22 or 23. It took me another ten years of living in the closet with my feelings before I even really started to open the box of stuff inside my head. I cite this incident as key to keeping it closed. Clearly our parents hold great power over us.
My father came home from work and shared the news that one of his colleagues “was going to have a sex change”. I vividly remember the way my he told this story. It was a combination of disgust, and a sort of gleeful, perverse, sensationalistic, excitement / outrage that someone could be doing this near him.
Apparently this person’s ex-wife had been spreading rumours and one of his colleagues mentioned it to him in the context of “you might want to get her to stop spreading lies”. His/her response was “Well.. actually… I can’t do that…”. (S)He* was intending to transition in his job and this conversation was a semi-intentional coming out.
He quickly added that “I don’t want him working on my team”. This shocked me absolutely. I knew my father was a redneck when it comes to things like this, but I hadn’t imagined it would cross the boundary between private, personal opinion & what I consider to be unprofessionalism.
I had never expressed any pro-trans sentiment before, for fear of someone suspecting ‘my dirty secret’, but I was so disgusted at his position that I needed to speak out.
I challenged him on it. For context he worked in a Power Station in the north of England, probably with 1000 men and maybe 100 women. It was a pretty blue collar environment. I think this has to be an extremely challenging environment to come out and transition in. I expect she was scared shitless – her bravery is off the chart by my book. I asked him “Why don’t you want to support this person?… She has been so brave and had to find the courage to do this in front of 1000 sniggering men – why can’t you just support her? – It costs you so very little to be kind”.
The conversation that followed was justified by many of the classic transphobic excuses: “Transexuals take lots of time off work for all their operations and it will make my job harder”, strongly stated opinion on the women’s toilets and how it would make women feel uncomfortable at work and “I shouldn’t have to acknowledge her as a real woman anyway, because she can never be one”.
The punchline was “I don’t see why everyone is forcing me to have to accept these people because of their beliefs and no-one is accepting my beliefs – what about my rights not to want to have to accommodate them?”. I didn’t make this point at the time, but nobody should have the right to be a bigot and marginalise vulnerable people.
I woke up this morning thinking about this incident – maybe because I’ve been thinking about coming out to him at some point soon. I wonder how he will react? I wonder what happened to the trans woman in question – maybe I’ll find out one day.
* I use ‘he’ because at that point in the timeline she was still living as and publicly presented as ‘he’. I get that some might take issue with this and I apologise if that is the case – I don’t think the rules are really super clear on how to refer to a trans person when they lived as their assigned gender, so I have chosen the convention that makes sense to me.