Content note: discussion of transphobia and trauma.
In my previous post I wrote about pain and love. About how people who have suffered pain often end up inflicting that pain on others. They do not sufficiently explore the nature and origin of their pain, and they do not work to heal it – to create that crucial distance between the source of the pain and their self. I wrote about this because I can relate to being in pain. The queerphobia of my youth and adulthood traumatised me and it wasn’t until my early thirties that I realised the extent of this pain – partly through reading about queer oppression and being able to connect that to my own experience. This knowledge allowed me to slowly create a distance between myself and the experience. I poured love, patience, therapy, friendship and kindness into this gap to help heal the wound. And it has healed.
So when I look to the people at the forefront of the transphobic moral panic I draw from my own experiences to try to relate to them. As a person who’s suffered pain I try to connect with the ways they have suffered pain. Hence the title of that previous post, “Pain & Love”. But in doing this I forget about that other key ingredient of transphobia – hate. That visceral loathing for trans women, that hateful disregard for non-binary people and all the other ways hate manifests in a ‘movement’ that wants to see trans people scared, erased and, for many, dead. These things have nothing to do with pain and everything to do with hate and the activating of that hate to harm other people. Another word for this is violence. Simply put, transphobia is violence.
There’s a phrase that “hurt people hurt people” but, do you know what, I’m a hurt person and I try my damndest to not hurt other people – even the people who hurt me! I try my best not to meet anger with anger, even though a lot of people get angry with me, and feel justified in blasting me with their anger. But that hurts and, surprise surprise, I don’t enjoy hurting people. It’s not fun to shout at others, to wound them, to cause them harm. When it comes to hate “hurt people hurt people” simply won’t do as an explanation (or excuse) for the actions of bigots. “Hateful people hurt people” might work a bit better and while it’s important to understand the origins of that hate, just as it’s important to understand the origins of people’s pain, the first task is to defend those being harmed by that hate. So that’s why I’m writing this post – to remind myself to say no to hate. For so long I was conditioned to excuse and tolerate the behaviour of my abusers, constantly making excuses for them, and empathising with them (while they had zero empathy for me), and that conditioning affected my politics too and how I engaged with oppression. But I’ve changed and this post is a reminder that while healing and rehabilitation are vital destinations on the journey to peace, before either of them, we must first hold haters to account and say no to their hate.
In Helena Bonham Carter’s recent interview she defended the transphobia of J.K. Rowling. She said: “It’s been taken to the extreme, the judgmentalism of people. She’s allowed her opinion, particularly if she’s suffered abuse. Everybody carries their own history of trauma and forms their opinions from that trauma and you have to respect where people come from and their pain. You don’t all have to agree on everything – that would be insane and boring. She’s not meaning it aggressively, she’s just saying something out of her own experience.”
My response is simple. Yes. Rowling is allowed her opinion. But if that opinion is transphobic then folks like me will stand up for our dignity and rights. Yes. I do respect where people come from and their pain. But I do not respect when people take their pain, weaponise it and attack others with it. Later in the interview, when asked about Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint speaking out against Rowling’s transphobia, Bonham Carter said: “Personally I feel they should let her have her opinions, but I think they’re very aware of protecting their own fanbase and their generation.” The phrase for when one generation harms another with its own trauma is intergenerational trauma. I want my legacy to be one of ending the intergenerational trauma which I have been given – and there’s been a lot. I’ve spent years exploring, understanding and doing the best I can to heal my pain. And one of the necessary balms I’ve needed to heal is love – filling myself with love from within. The results have proved transformational!
There is now a greater distance between myself and my pain. My trauma no longer defines me and it doesn’t dictate my behaviour (i.e. usually resulting in defensive or aggressive actions). I am better able to take control of and responsibility for my actions, ensuring I inflict less harm on others. This allows me to contribute more to the sum total of healing. This has yielded so much more happiness for me and a greater energy to do that which I think is important. It has liberated my imagination allowing me to imagine worlds beyond trauma, patriarchy and pain, rather than just imagining yet more ways of traumatising others. Love proves a wonderfully sustaining force and so much more motivating than hate. If hate burns like coal then love is a renewable energy like the flow of the river or the current of the tide.
It’s time to make magic again! Dumbledore Is So Gay is available on demand until 17th October. With five stars from Boyz Magazine and the Daily Express, this isn’t one to miss! “A beautiful coming-of-age story for a Harry Potter generation” said Mugglenet.
In this post I want to discuss one element of the plot (spoilers), namely, time travel. At the end of Act 1 the play’s protagonist, Jack, whips out his Time Turner and zooms back from age 18 to 12 to live his adolescence again. It’s an idea that chimed with audiences; that desire to go back and make things better. Second time around Jack does get some of what he wants but it wouldn’t be theatre if there weren’t plenty of surprises. He has another go in Act 3. One night after the show I was chatting with an audience member who said how bittersweet it was given that those of us in the Muggle world don’t have access to Time Turners. We are left with our losses, regrets and missed opportunities.
This sentiment was reflected in the MuggleNet review of the show: “It’s funny, and it’s heart-breaking. It makes you want to wrap the characters up in a hug and tell them it’s going to be okay – even when you’re not sure it is.” In a way, this is what I was doing when I wrote the script. I was going back in my own timeline and trying to make sense of the things that happened to me and the things I did. Except I was going back as someone with more age and wisdom, and an ability to see things differently. To my mistakes I could bring understanding, for my losses I could grieve, and to all my experiences I could contextualise them within the abuses and neglect of cisheteronormativity. In effect, I could go back and wrap little me up in a big hug and tell them it’s going to be okay – because here I am, and I wouldn’t be here without them. That doesn’t mean I know what’s coming next but I’m still here, and that counts.
This process wasn’t quite as simple as writing a script and healing my wounds, other vital elements of this process include having therapy, reading Brene Brown books, exploring my emotional and spiritual growth at Embercombe, building relationships with people who see me and care about me, all of which I’ve written about on this blog. These things have taken years and I don’t regret any of them. They have given me new distance from which to view my past. Older and wiser I can see the young, queer me striving to survive and thrive in a world that often wanted me to fail. Kudos to little me. Storytelling forms a vital part of this process and is a tool I often use to make sense of my life, regardless of whether that writing ends up as a staged script. So, as it transpires, I can time travel. With memory, wisdom, storytelling and kindness, I can travel back and save me from the past that so often took so much away. Tickets!
“Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation & prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us.”
This tweet from Alexander Leon recently went viral and is testimony to the many, many struggles queer people face in claiming their identities in the face of prejudice, ignorance and violence. He went on to say:
“It’s massive and existential and difficult. But I’m convinced that being confronted with the need for profound self-discovery so explicitly (and often early in life!) is a gift in disguise. We come out the other end wiser & truer to ourselves. Some cis/het people never get there.”
And that last sentence, “Some cis/het people never get there”, really stands out for me as many cis/het people never get the chance to profoundly explore their identities beyond the aggressive and shaming narratives of patriarchal heternormativity telling them the sort of lives they should be living, the sort of salaries they should be earning, houses they should be buying, gender roles they should be conforming to etc. Whereas, for the queers who make it through the many dark nights of their souls and experience this “profound self-discovery” the results really can be liberating as the bonds that bind us snap and we gain one of the greatest gifts, freedom. We may well still be alone, trying to make it in a world that isn’t ready for us, but our souls are a little less bound and much more free.
I call this queer medicine. It might be bitter to taste (and that’s not even the half of it) but the results are healing. And the irony is that as the heteronorm excludes, kills and ridicules us, queer medicine is an elixir anyone can take, whatever their sexualities and genders. Because we are all capable of profoundly discovering ourselves and that wisdom and truth on the other side of unconditioning is available to us all. Queer medicine does not discriminate, it’s for the taking for everyone, bottoms up.