What happens when you force someone to be something they are not? One powerful answer to that question was provided, many years back, in Alan Garner’s “Owl Service” – a beautifully crafted children’s book (with adult resonance) about what happens when a spirit is forced to be what she is not. Violence ensues.
Forty years on, I still love the denouement: “She wants to be flowers – but they keep making her owls”. That and the fact that when finally that simple truth is recognised, the malevolence that hangs over the story is dispelled, giving way to peace and harmony.
I thought of that today, reading a piece in the Guardian by Paris Lees. I thought a little of that last week, when asked to explain why trans folk should be treated on the NHS. The answer comes in two parts.
Eliminating the negative
First, we are out of gender. The way we have been reared, mostly, is utterly at odds with who we are – and if you do that to anyone, the results will be bad. Sometimes seriously bad.
The NHS acknowledges that the trans community as a whole has one of, if not THE highest suicide rates of any group within the NHS. That and self-harm. Strangely, allow someone to transition, and that rate swiftly evaporates.
We are also pretty antisocial. Sorry. Let me qualify that. As Paris wrote: seven years ago, she was in borstal and on her way into the prison system. I am glad she has come clean about this publically: when she and I first spoke, she expressed real concern that if that ever came to light, she would be pilloried.
No, Paris: you won’t be. Because what happened to you is what society needs to understand. Sift thru the stories of transition, particularly young transition, and time and time and time again you will find this nugget: angry young man or woman, violent, given to anti-social behaviours suddenly metamorphoses, thru transition, into a delightful human being.
Is there, perhaps, a clue there?
Make us owls – and we react badly: allow us to be flowers and something else will shine thru.
Difficult for reactionaries
Ah. But how will that play with readers of the Express and Mail? It sounds dangerously like we’re saying: treat us or else. Or else we’ll kill ourselves. Or you.
Of course, that’s no different, in some ways, from what happens with other conditions. Dyslexia, f’rinstance, can lead to serious anti-social behaviour, which clears in a moment as soon as the root cause is identified.
Emphasise the positive
Besides, people like ME.. .the late transitioners.. . we behave ourselves. Don’t we?
Not quite. I’d say two things of my life – and again, this is backed by experience and research. First is a sense of utter loss and frustration. Living as male for so many years has felt, continues to feel, a complete waste. As though I was living in a foreign land and never learned the language.
My academic history augured well for me, career-wise: in the end, I ended up nowhere special and that, in part, seems to have been about total bemusement with the language of the gender I’d been assigned to. Always on the outside, paddling desperately to look as though I’d fitted.
Or alternately, dabbling in bolshy politics.
(Now there’s a thought: I wonder just how many revolutionaries of ages gone by were actually blokes with gender issues: Lenin, Trotsky/ Surely not Stalin!)
In just a couple of years, even as someone who is still, according to some sections of the public a “reviled tranny”, I can feel myself fitting, adapting, working so, so much more productively.
Which ties very closely to some academic work I’ve been hearing about in the last week or so: that post-transition, certainly for trans men, possibly for trans women, earnings go up significantly. To the point where the additional tax revenue more than pays for the transition process.
In my own case, I am not so sure. From where I sit now, I think that, had I transitioned twenty years back I’d have faded…but happily: dwindled to Stepford wife and beauty therapist.
Huh? But I know: know now what makes me happy and compared to what went before, this is technicolour, that was black and white. This is living: that wasn’t.
The bottom line is: there are many reasons for supporting transition.
And if the wider community can’t do so out of simple empathy for another’s plight, there are also some very good self-interested reasons for doing so. Fewer suicides, less anti-social behaviour – and a small but significant extra cohort of well-adjusted socially productive individuals.