Ariel Silvera is an Argentinian feminist writer, journalist and activist, currently living between Ireland and the UK. A queer trans woman featured in DIVA magazine's "Twelve to Watch in 2012", she has been Lead and Guest Editor of BoLT magazine, and her writing has been featured in Scotland's Skinny magazine, Prettyqueer.com and The F-Word. She has been part of the Revolutionary Anarchafeminist Group, a women's publishing collective, and has written for their magazine, the Rag. Alongside Avery Dame, she podcasts on her twin interests of queer/feminist politics and general geekdom on Queers With Beers. She also provides workshops on trans issues, and was a featured DJ at Dublin Pride 2011's "The Speakeasy" Dyke Night.
Ariel was involved in the feminist movement before transitioning, and remains passionate about feminist and queer politics. She will share her experiences being a feminist in Ireland, especially being involved in journalism and critical writing. She will also discuss current political struggles in that country and talk about the trans and queer communities there.
She'd tell you what her favourite comic book character is, but you've probably never even heard of them. God.
Kate: We're going to have two speakers in this session I'm going to introduce Ariel in a minute and Paris is going to speak as well. Ariel is going to talk about, well, an enormous list of things actually, once we got started, looking at the list, but she's going to talk about the situation in Ireland, is going to talk about trans-feminism, queer feminism and probably other subjects that occur along the way. And then Paris is going to talk again about the trans rights movement. [To Paris:] If I'm overlooking anything...[Paris shakes her head] [unintelligible as they talk over each other]. Also, while I'm up here, I want to just crack on... [?] on the subject...so yeah, we'll hear from Ariel first, then we'll hear from Paris. So if you could please welcome Ariel Silvera.
Ariel: Hi everyone, thank you for having me. [Laughs] I have my laptop up like a teleprompter. So, hope you don't mind... right, so, I kind of entitled this talk 'trans-feminisms and imagined(?) communities' and, well, just to start a bit about me - I'm a trans woman. That means that I was assigned male at birth and I have transitioned to female in the last few years. I am originally from Argentina which...unlike what a lot of people have asked me, it's not in Eastern Europe... [laughter] and we don't speak 'Argentinean', we speak Latin American Spanish. I've been involved in the feminist movement in Ireland for five years now, in a number of different groups. Currently I am the editor of BoLT magazine, which is Ireland's only magazine for LGBTQ women and trans people of all genders, I'm in RAG, which is the Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group, and we just started a new group called Girl Germs, which is a punk women's group which is really really promising.
I was very interested to talk in this conference, because for me intersectionality has been something which has informed my feminism since I first started calling myself a feminist. And I think that it's often in the trans community we see a lot of people rejecting feminist or womanist politics, and I'm going to talk a bit about that. First, I just wanted to brag a tiny bit because if you... you might not have heard of it, because it has not been covered in the media very much, but Argentina passed groundbreaking gender recognition legislation. Now, when Argentina passed completely equal same-sex marriage, this made a lot of headlines all over the world, but when we passed one of the most groundbreaking, unique laws in terms of transgender equality in the world it's merely been a blip on the radar. But this legislation, what it means in Argentina is once it's turned into law - but it's going to be, because it's been passed - trans people will be able to change our genders legally without any requirement for proof of surgery, without any letters from a doctor, or from a judge, or from an attorney. And the legislation also mandates that the state must provide free trans-related healthcare, in terms of hormone treatments, and in terms of surgical, pathway stuff. And that's really great and to me that's really interesting, because I'm also an Italian citizen, and Italy, which is an 'advanced European country', would require me to have all these different things, and would require me to have a judge decide things and so I'm really happy that us in the 'undeveloped world' are leading the way [laughter] and Europe could learn a thing or two.
I was mentioning this a couple of days ago when I was in Dublin for the launch of Trans Voices, which... it was published by the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland, it's TENI.ie if you want to check their website for more information on that, it's a really amazing book - and I'm not just saying that because I'm in it - but it's a book like of photographs and artwork, personal experiences, poetry, all from trans people in Ireland, and it's the first book of its kind, and we launched it at the Dublin Civic Offices, and it was an incredible experience.
So, I'm going to... I'm going to get into the talk proper, sorry. So, I feel that this is a time where, more than any time in the last 20 years, we need social justice that are...that are brought together and integrated, and I think that the global crisis and the European vision of permanent austerity are making it very clear, and I think that feminism and gender...or any kind of gender-based justice movement, whatever name it takes, is completely relevant. Before continuing, I have forgotten I need to mention that I'm going to be kind of talking about some subject matter, in terms of abuse and violence that might be triggering or hard to listen to, so...just letting you know that.
So, if gender-based justice weren't needed, like many of us have heard from the media, or even from members of social justice movements, or of anarchist movements, of socialist movements, if it is not needed then why do we have rapists in our social justice movements? Why does abuse happen within these movements - predominantly, though not exclusively, to those who are most vulnerable in wider society? Or, for example, why is society so obsessed with telling people what their genders are, and destroying or humiliating people when they don't comply to these things? I feel like it's the right time for us to start addressing these things.
My own journey as a trans-feminist began with being involved with the Irish pro-choice movement. In Ireland, abortion is not legal. It's in a legal limbo, a few weeks ago, the Irish Parliament, for the first time, debated abortion - in 2012. And they overwhelmingly - they were voting on the court ruling of the X case. The X case was a court case about a pregnant woman who wanted to travel abroad to procure a termination, and she was allowed to travel, but that has not been brought into law, through Parliament, and Parliament voted against it, to give you some scope how things are. Back to my personal history... I joined... back when I was starting with feminism, I joined online communities like girlwonder.org, which is a website about media, comic book critique from a feminist perspective, and... at the time, it was before I came out and I transitioned, I saw myself as male, and I guess I learned quickly to shut up and listen, to read a lot, and to ask a lot of questions to people who are willing to answer them. And I have to say that internet communities, and very fantastic, welcoming people in the Irish queer and feminist communities helped me out a lot, and kind of helped me along the path to come out.
Coming out, I had a massive amount of privilege in terms of accessibility, to spaces, in terms of race because, despite coming from an immigrant background I am white European. In terms of education and class, I'm from a middle-class background and I am university educated, so coming out I had access to a lot of tools that made my journey through a lot of the medical system, and socially and [?] and stuff, and seeking support, all these things helped me out because I was so privileged. And I was very welcomed in the feminist community as I had read the right books, and I had said the right things, and... this privilege that I had, it really showed when I realised that there were strains of feminism that hated women like me. Which I was not aware...like, it totally shocked me when I first found this out. And in the past few years, ever since, I would say... well there's been a growing trans-feminist movement, and...there's been a massive kind of explosion of trans-informed feminism, and it's taken a very interesting turn since 2007, the publication of Whipping Girl by Julia Serano, which is kind of the text so far on trans-feminism. There are a lot of blogs that have sprouted up, kind of most notably Questioning Transphobia, Natalie Reed's blog, and a whole bunch of others, and this is kind of gathering momentum and a lot of people are kind of calling this a fourth wave of feminism.
Now, I'm going to move away, if you don't mind, from trans-feminism to talk a bit about feminism in Ireland, so, sorry for the topic-jumping, there's just a lot of topics to cover! So, I talked to you a bit about abortion before. In terms of feminism in Ireland, we have, like everywhere, different strains of feminism, but we have a big dominance in the feminist movement from a kind of more... a more liberal strain of feminism, represented by groups like the Irish Feminist Network and the Feminist Open Forum, who do good work yet are very limited in their scope. There's a lot of emphasis these days on the issue of proportional Parliamentary representation, on having a certain set, minimum percentage of women that have to be present in Parliament. And I feel that there is a lack of awareness of the fact that many female politicians from the current political parties have voted against their interests as women and the interests of gender and sexual minorities, because they are essentially conservative people. So I don't necessarily think that... you know, it doesn't really seem to me that when we have issues like abortion and gender-based violence, sexuality and identity-based violence, I just don't really feel that proportional representation is really going to help us in these struggles that are so urgent. There are radical voices, like I mentioned, RAG and Girl Germs before, the pro-choice movement is very strong and unapologetic, but there's a very distinct lack of voices from black and minority ethnic people, the feminist movement in Ireland is overwhelmingly white, with a great lack of awareness of issues of race and of issues faced by immigrants and people of colour.
But I do have good things to say about Irish feminism, don't get me wrong. It's just...it has its limitations is what I'm trying to say. The interesting thing for me is that I'm always, you know, reading online about the transphobia, or being the target of it, as it happened yesterday, of being the target of transphobia from UK or US based so-called 'feminists'. And I always say, well, you know, Ireland may have its problems, and the Irish left has its problems, but we don't have people like that, at least, in the feminist movement I have never really...you know, like my experience has been, so far, that I've run into like, nothing of the sort. You know, the closest thing I have seen was an event that was, like, talking about the contributions of Mary Daly, who was a radical feminist, who...didn't really like trans women at all! And... the event was kind of ignoring that side of her. But then on Thursday I was talking to a young trans guy who is from an area to the north of Dublin where they have a small LGB centre, and he was pushing to add the T, and apparently the person who is running that centre happens to hold these transphobic feminist views. Stuff like 'you know, well, I don't really know or care about trans people and why are you making me care about this?'. You know, we're talking about like...this trans guy that I was talking to is about 20, and he's a very sorted person, but if he was like something...you know, he was telling me, 'if I was somebody needing support in that area, I'd be screwed basically'. So I am very unhappy to report that I have now heard of this kind of like second-wave feminist transphobia and this disdain for trans people in Ireland. For the first time, two days ago.
Now, moving on to the LGBTQ and trans communities, we...it's very interesting how it manifests itself, because a lot of the conversations that happen in the trans community in Ireland are very different from the conversations that I see from the UK or the US or Canada. Now, we don't have a 'queer community', and by that I mean like this community that has appeared in a lot of countries of people not defining as lesbian or gay, of just saying they're queer. Their communities have...there have been a lot of genderqueer people and a lot of trans men, but historically not many trans women, but that's changing. And we don't have that kind of like 'sub-community', if you will, in Ireland. We don't really have any kind of radical political groups that are sexuality or gender-oriented. We have radicals, of course, that are queer, but we're kind of integrated into the 'mainstream' as most people call it 'gay movement'. In a way it's really good because there is a strong influence sometimes from those perspectives, but there is a strong lack of feminist awareness, there's a strong lack of kind of feminist, womanist, gender-based approaches, and that is really... I find that really problematic. Although I do feel that there's a coming change with the kind of new generation of young people.
Now I want to talk a bit...just moving away from talking about Ireland, I'm going to talk a bit about where I see some issues in terms of intersectionality and trans politics. One event that brings a lot of trans people together around the globe is the Trans Day of Remembrance. This is a day in which the trans community remembers trans people that have been murdered. Each day of remembrance we read a list of names. Most of these names are from people outside of the so-called 'developed world'. They are feminine-oriented people that have been assigned male at birth. And the people who are in the list from the developed world are almost exclusively black, minority ethnic or immigrants. This fact is often, I feel, unremarked upon. You know, nobody really talks about that in the actual...you know in the Day of Remembrance and it feels sometimes to me that it is appropriative, because many of us, even if we are vulnerable, even if our community is very...under attack a lot, and even if we are personally under attack physically or emotionally or otherwise, we present these deaths as if being trans is all, these people who have passed away, is all they were. As if race and local gender politics and history, as if all of this was not a part of it. And I find that...that is a bit disingenuous because we are not all in the same situation, this is like...this is like the basic intersectionality, that we, despite having similarities from being a certain class of person, we also have other things that are advantages or disadvantages.
We also have to remember, as Canadian activist Morgan Paige put it - 'who isn't on this list?'. This is something that Morgan said in a speech at the Trans Day of Remembrance last year. The people who are not on the list at the Trans Day of Remembrance are the people who survived attacks, only to be imprisoned for defending themselves, like the case of CeCe MacDonald, who is an African-American trans woman in the US. Also on this list are not those who have been abused or raped and have survived. Those who also...very conspicuously, those who are killed by, our system's worst murderer in a way, which is suicide. Because when we continue to foster a culture of disgust, revulsion and hatred towards the oppressed, we are teaching the oppressed to hate themselves. I feel that suicide is patriarchy's perfect crime. Trans people who have killed themselves are not on these lists.
So, where to go from here? I mean, I think that trans-feminism is evolving, certainly. It is taking... it is working on an intersectional approach, which I feel is really really necessary, and we have seen a bit of a resurgence of anti-trans sentiment in the feminist movement, but I really think that it will not... you know, it's a very vocal opposition, but I think it's a very dysfunctional opposition that will not really go much places. Because we look at the thought of transphobic, trans-exclusionary feminists, it's a kind of thought that has not really changed or evolved from very basic misconceptions that are decades old, whereas the trans-feminist movement has actually evolved a great deal. There's a lot of dialogue and conversation, the concepts are not fixed. And the other problem that I see is that trans-feminism can be overwhelmingly white, like a lot of feminism, and I think it's important to remember that intersectionality is born out of black feminist politics, it's born out of reacting to the [?] of feminism, in terms of race.
Now, to talk about the future and allies, the kind of, the future and where allies fit into things, I think that I kind of have some words for allies, which is that, you know, questioning one's own privileges and being aware of them working and doing things about them is crucial and not letting oneself be paralysed by these concepts of guilt or whatever. I feel that being an ally to the oppressed means using the resources of privilege that a person has to enable those without that privilege. It's not about telling these liberation movements by the oppressed what to do. It's about listening, it's about reading, it's about shutting the hell up and it's about finding that - this is aimed primarily at kind of middle-class activists - there's that instinct that a lot of middle-class activists have that they know better what they should be doing and that they have to lead them and it's completely... that has to go. That's bullshit. Oh, I say bullshit, that's written here [points to laptop] [laughter].
So I say that we have to join and support the struggles of others and we also have to fought in our day to day lives. Like a lot of people ask me 'how am I supposed to know a lot of these things about trans stuff?' and you know, I'm like 'sometimes we learn because we have no choice but at the same time, if you are a privileged person that has the capabilities of learning about a lot of this stuff and you're not doing it and there's nothing to stop you, then I kind of... I don't know, I don't know if we can be friends' [laughter]. Now, we must remember that being an ally doesn't mean that a person is exempt from privilege, or from fucking up, or that they're going to get a cookie [laughter]. Yeah, that's kind of what I have to say about allies. It's... argh, I'm really sounding totally disjointed. [To Kate] Am I running out of time?
Kate: No, you have two more minutes.
Ariel: I might do five.
Kate: That's fine.
Ariel: YAY! [laughter] Score! OK, celebratory Irn Bru [drinks] [laughter]. Now, to talk about the future of...what I see as the future of the trans-feminist movement, one thing that has become a bit of a buzzword between trans-activists is the idea that there is not a trans community, there are only trans communities. And I find that this is a really important thing to understand. Because yeah, a lot of us want like, you know, this sense of a global trans community where we want to try and connect, and it's very useful as well, because with the internet, we're a small minority, so it's a very useful way of gathering people together.
But I feel that there's a very... in the 'English speaking internet' there's a massive dominance of American perspectives. We have had like massive, massive, international rows because people are using the wrong terminology, sorry [airquotes] 'wrong' terminology because they're from different countries. A friend of mine who is Israeli was not using terms the way that a San Francisco based trans person was using them and was berating them for it in their own blog, and my friend was like 'I'm not a native English speaker, this is how we refer to things in my local queer community'. And, you know, there is a massive community outside of the internet. There is a massive trans community outside of the English-speaking world. I mean, let's face it, there clearly is, because otherwise a Spanish-speaking country wouldn't have beaten the English-speaking countries to proper trans legislation, would we now? [laughter] I just wanted to rub that in one more time [laughter].
So, I don't know if any of you have been to a big feminist trans community event with a lot of people in attendance from different generations, but from my personal experience, young trans people are totally kicking my ass. The internet and... you know, I meant 'younger', I'm pretty young... talking about teenagers. The internet and the wide availability of it is, I think, slowly making a lot of political discourse and political dialogues more accessible in very... in not 'academic' ways. Like in the 90s we had 'queer theory' which was very academic and laden with terminology and utterly boring and this is democratising things a lot for trans youth. At the launch of Trans Voices on Thursday in Dublin I was just like... there were many generations, you know of people who were teenagers, of 20s, 30s, 60s, you know? And it was interesting to me that those of us who are late 20s or older, we were talking a bit more [airquotes] 'respectfully', more like subdued kind of thing, and the young trans people were being brutally honest about their day to day lives, their experiences, their experiences of sex, and gender, or their own bodies, and of their own identities, and how they saw themselves in society. i don't think that... I would not have been able to do that at the age of say like, 16, like some of the people that were talking, it was incredible. I think that we need to listen to young trans people, because I think that for too long we have had this massive age division in the trans community of people telling young people what to do and how identities should be lived. I've experienced that and I'm not even that young. But I don't want to do that, I don't want... I think the trans communities can't really continue to do that, and every time I hear it it makes my blood boil.
A good metaphor came to my mind the other day that I don't want to tell trans kids what car they should get on, I just want to give them a set of keys and set them on their merry way. You know, just figure out what way sorts you out better. I'm not advocating...because the other thing, the pushback that I've seen is a lot of kind of ageism and age-based division, and I'm not advocating that. I just feel that there has to be respect between people of all the different generations when we talk to each other and not pretend that we can... and not feel - and this is the thing, I see so much like people being aggressive about people living identities in different ways and that should not happen. Your identity is not threatening my identity or the next person over.
I also feel the trans-activist community needs to start seriously listening to sex workers and sex work rights activism. At a time when many of our groups are seeking legal recourses for changing documentation and all these things, we're forgetting that for a lot of trans people this is not relevant. But organisations, in order to lobby for this legislation, which is necessary, seek a sort of 'respectability' and thus the sex workers rights movement is seen as [airquotes] 'not respectable' and so they will distance themselves from it. Which I feel is another exercise in privilege from these organisations. I know, I really know from personal experience, I was in the committee for the Trans Equality Network four years ago and I know our organisations are completely understaffed and under-resourced. But it is essential that we link trans organisations in with groups working with sex workers, and I'm not talking about the kind of groups that say that they're going to 'rescue' sex workers, but this kind of coordination needs to happen. The understanding that trans people exist in a variety of contexts and environments and have a wide variety of needs. This is the kind of intersectionality that I want.
Now, to conclude, I'm going to offer two misquotes - and I'm sorry for over-running - I'm going to purposefully misquote a very obnoxious dead white dude who said 'stay hungry', and I'm going to say 'stay angry'. But I will say don't... this is my inspirational activist bit, I would say don't let anger consume you, entrap you or misguide you. Let its righteousness speed your social justice work. Let it make you take the fight to where it needs to be taken. Let it energise your compassion and your search for understanding. Let it transform you into a machine of constant questioning, and learning. And to quote Public Image Limited, my other quote, is that 'anger is an energy'. That's all I have.
Q & A
Kate: So thank you very much Paris, so if anyone has questions for Paris, or for Ariel, or perhaps both, or perhaps open questions and we'll see who wants to answer them, I believe it's traditional to put your hand in the air. [To audience member] Yes?
Question 1: I was just... I emailed the... thanks for [?], saying what [?], and I'd especially like to touch on... I didn't hear whether Ariel said anger is not an energy or is an energy, I think...
Ariel: It is, yeah.
Question 1: It is? Yeah, and I didn't want to disagree, but yeah, I believe it is too, and it's about channeling it correctly isn't it, and the approach is vital, and sometimes my approach isn't always the best one, you know, and then I make mistakes, and then I learn, and, you know, I think it's about, sort of, realising what it is you want to say before you just start getting angry about something, and looking at, 'Is this gonna make a change?', and I was really looking forward to going to the RadFem conference, until I realised that there was the the issue with not inviting women who weren't born as women, and the [?] [laughter] So I sent them a message. I can moan all I like but I thought, why don't I just send them a message?
And it said, [reading] 'Hi there, I was really looking forward to attending, but wish to ask why only women born as women are able to attend. Simply, many women were born with a penis, and identified as female from childhood. This seems transphobic, does it not? I look forward to a response. Kind regards.'
And the response was, 'Hi Marina, Our participation information is here,' and they sent me a link to their statement about only women being born as women, and said, 'if you do not wish to participate, please let us know. Thanks, RadFem.'
So, um, [I was just]
Ariel: [Interjecting] Like I said in my talk, and not a single fuck was given! [laughter]
Question 1: That we (a) all boycott RadFem, for any of those who weren't aware of what was going on, and I'd just like to say it's really sad that I wasn't aware that people could be so openly feminist, and be so clearly transphobic, because I hadn't encountered any feminists like that, and I'm not an academic, so I wouldn't necessarily be aware of all of the wars that rage in different [?] groups.
Paris: I do, again, I mean it is a huge problem see, but I think it is important to keep it in perspective, I mean it is definitely a problem, but, I mean, I don't know... I haven't met a feminist under the age of thirty who, kind of, holds those kind of exclusionary views and practices. I think it's a form of feminism which is dying out actually, I really do. And, um, the sooner the better.
Question 1: It's just such a shame, that for RadFem, that it's such an amazing platform...
Paris: It's a shame for them though.
Question 1: Yeah absolutely!
Ariel: Could I answer, just to, just to repeat things, I'm not going to touch on [?] because, [pointing at audience member] exactly what you said, I don't really have much more to add to that [laughing]. But I just want to talk about a thing, because you also talked about it Paris, my remark about anger, and I kind of wanted to, like, qualify that a bit because maybe I didn't clarify it well enough.
I'm building on some of my own ideas, some ideas of a friend of mine Flavia Dzodan, who is a feminist writer, who is also an Argentinian living in Europe. And I think, like, OK, kind of, one of the qualifiers that I have here is that I deal with depression a lot. A lot of it has to do with issues of... oppression and social justice, and I think, what I'm talking about when I say using anger as an energy is... I said let it fuel your compassion because I feel, you know, if we're too driven just by completely, like, red, rage, or whatever, you know, it is very destructive. You know, it HAS to be used constructively, and it also, you know, we need to kind of check ourselves because something that happens to a lot of activists is like you know, there's too few of us, doing too many things and there's issues. Activists burn out -- I've definitely had it, where you're like, I just want to live my life, I can't be bothered with all this stuff! But I guess my point is like, you know... if you find yourself being angered by these things on a day-to-day basis, if that anger pushes you towards activism and towards doing positive change with that energy, that's kind of what I'm talking about.
Question 2: It's kind of almost like a discussion I've had with LGBT(?), I suppose. I'm quite involved with the NUS, and I actually complained that there's a lot of transphobia that's happened and... like you said, there's almost like a strand of trans people and trans allies that are trying to fight against that, and especially with the feminists in the NUS, and especially NUS Woman's... so yeah, I don't know, I was just wondering... I just wanted to say that.
Kate: [to audience member] Yeah, go ahead.
Question 3: You talked about anger, what about fear? I mean, certainly for me, the first feminist conference I went to was actually Go Feminist, [to Paris] I think you were there. And I had a lot of anxiety, even though they said they were trans positive, even though everyone there was really lovely, I had a lot of anxiety bout going as a trans person. So how do we combat that fear? How do we make trans people feel that they're going to be welcome?
Paris: Did you feel comfortable when you were there? [Audience member nods] [To Ariel] Should I keep on talking? Do you want to?
Ariel: No, you go.
Paris: How do you combat fear? I don't know, it's a tricky one, isn't it? I don't think there's a simple solution really, I think fear stops people from doing a lot of things, and with the whole 'getting out of bed thing' that I talked about, I suffer from depression and sometimes getting out of bed is really tricky. I fear getting out of bed some days, but I also fear death, and that's what helps me personally. I think about people that I know who've died, and it sounds so cheesy but that's what I think about when I... that's what gets me out of bed in the morning, I think 'come on, we've got to do it today because we're all going to be dead one day'. And it sounds a bit extreme but it's true, that's how I deal with fear.
It's difficult really, but I think that... we can't go along feeling comfortable, because if you seek spaces where you only feel comfortable, your world gets smaller and smaller and smaller until you can't leave your own house. And I've been there before as well. So, I just think... you have to keep challenging yourself as well as challenging bigotry and other people, it's not all but [to audience member] how much better did you feel for going? You know? It is rewarding, there is a payoff you know?
I was listening to a really interesting lecture, it was in the same hall actually, as Go Feminist, by Alain De Botton, and he was talking about pessimism and he was saying that people who always kind of avoid situations where there might be conflict or upset, and they try get rid of that very quickly. They're not... they're never... they're always going to be trapped in this comfortable world, but they're never going to experience true joy or happiness or fulfilment, because happiness and unhappiness are intrinsically linked and they're kind of two sides of the same coin. And I think it's really good to put yourself in situations where you don't feel comfortable, and that's the best thing that I could say to people who are fearful about putting yourself in certain positions, but it's hard, you know. Don't be too tough on yourself either, look after yourself as well. I think we can be really tough on ourselves sometimes and... don't beat yourself up over stuff.
Kate: Does that help?
Ariel: Just a brief response, really, to what Paris talked about, my own perspective would be that... when I face situations like that, I would sometimes go to an event with at least one other person, that's my approach to it. But yeah, I have [?] at a 'Mary Daly tribute event' which was, it was at a conference that was all-genders, but the Mary Daly event was women-only, and I didn't feel like challenging that, because I wasn't up for that that day.
And I feel like the flip-side to us challenging ourselves is that... we're seeing from a lot of the proper feminist community that when these toxic strands of [to Paris] as you were saying...when these toxic strands of anti-trans-feminism come up, people challenge them. I'm very very happy to see so many people that are not trans challenging them. I think we have to remember, also, that a lot of this anti-trans sentiment is just a few people that are very very vocal, and there's not that many of them. It's the same as the pro-life movement in a lot of places, that it's actually a minority movement, it's very small, but it's very vocal and very well-resourced. Now... oh wow, they must feel really angry if they're watching this, I just compared them to the pro-life movement [laughter].
Paris: I have something to add to that as well, that I didn't think about. I think that fear is quite easily converted into anger, and trying to do that, if you think 'oh, I'm afraid to go to this', then think 'well WHY should I feel afraid?' and just... another kind of bus incident... I got on a bus in Brighton once and the driver was, well she looked like a trans woman, you can never tell 100% obviously, and I don't like to play that game, but I read her as trans. I got on the bus, the bus got really busy, it really filled up, and this was at a time when I was completely stealth, and really wasn't confident, and didn't want to be noticed, just wanted to be tiny, in the corner, kind of thing...and she got off the bus to swap drivers round when we got to the depot. I saw these people who were in front of me going [fake whispering], like that, and pointing towards the front.
I was like 'oh, what's going on?', and I realised that they were kind of pointing at her and looking at her, and she walked down the side of the bus, the side that I was sitting on, and I could see these people in front of me going [fake whispering], and animatedly kind of whispering and pointing at her and laughing. The guy next to me got out a camera and went to take a picture of her, and I was getting so angry, and I really really didn't want to out myself in that situation, I felt quite vulnerable, and I was just so angry that my anger just consumed me and I just erupted. I said 'what the hell are you doing?', you know, 'what are you thinking of?' kind of thing, and I think that anger is good, but it's channelling it in a really positive way and that can be difficult to do sometimes, but I think fear can be converted into anger when necessary. So that's my advice.
Kate: I'm going to... just for a second... [to Paris] I hope you don't mind me saying something?
Kate: On the subject of fear, it just seems like the one thing that we haven't said is that quite a lot of people out there fear... sometimes you might feel fear and actually, you're right to feel fear. There is also a situation in which the correct response to fear is to go 'actually, I can't go to this event', or 'I can't attend this thing' or 'I can't get on this'... whatever it is, 'I can't go to this place' actually sometimes... you know, it's great to talk about how you can overcome fear, but we should also recognise that sometimes fear is very well placed, and actually sometimes the correct response to fear is to go 'actually I should not be going to this, this is not safe, this is not somewhere which I can go to'. Obviously I just don't want people to think 'I can overcome fear' and then put themselves at risk of violence or at risk of further abuse. If... you know, before you conquer your fear, make sure that it's a fear you'll benefit from conquering, not one that is quite rightly alerting you to a threat to yourself. [to audience member] Yes?
Question 4: I just wanted to know about transphobia in general society, because I'm from Exeter University and recently we got ourselves in the Telegraph, about one of our president candidates dressing up as a woman and campaigning.
Audience member: He's cisgendered.
Question 4: Yeah, a cisgendered man. And I just wondered how you approach that, and like, the culture of fancy dress, dressing up, and whether you found that as a level of transphobia or how that actually affected the approach to being trans?
Paris: [To Ariel] I've got something to say if you want?
Ariel: Go ahead.
Paris: I think... that that is an absolute can of worms [laughter].
Ariel: Me too, next question! [laughter]
Paris: Yeah. It's hard, because, you know, I see stuff sometimes, I think they had some Bounty adverts a couple of months ago - you know, it did make me laugh, because they were obviously cisgender blokes, just dressing up kind of thing. And then I had to ask 'well, why am I laughing at this?'. It's kind of that incongruence of expectation, you know, because you expect people to be a certain way... so, maybe we shouldn't find that funny, I find Dame Edna hilarious and I think it would be sad if we were to see the end of pantomime dames and drag.
But I guess it's sort of looking into how that humour's derived, and I think that if we're laughing at gender incongruence in people who are dressing up, it's hard to say 'well you can't laugh at gender incongruence in people who are gender incongruent because they were born a certain way and now they're transitioning', you know? So it's really really tricky and I don't think we've got to the bottom of that, and I think, when it comes to comedy, it's got a very dark, complex heart, so I don't really feel like I've got the answer for that.
But it's difficult, I remember watching Little Britain with people before, and I used to think it was really funny, Emily Howard, and some of the things I do laugh at, you know? And then I think 'no, they're actually laughing at me, but they're not laughing at me'... and it's a real grey area, and I think that actually, the general public don't actually know the difference between a trans woman and a pantomime dame and I think that is the problem actually, and I think that as trans people, and as allies, trans-feminists, we could probably sit and watch Little Britain and laugh at the things we think it's appropriate to laugh at, and if there was something a bit off we probably wouldn't. I think really, it's a lack of awareness of what trans identities actually are is the problem, if that helps?
Ariel: All that I have is that... in terms of people who are cis, or 'not-trans', men dressing up in women's clothing for fancy dress and stuff like that, I feel there's an aspect of that that like, people who are raised male in society, or are assigned male at birth, there's the enforcement of masculinity. It's often very abusive and violent for many people, and there is this constant policing of masculinity between men, I feel a lot of the time. And I feel that this... when you have the fancy dress and the humour, it can sometimes be like... it's the kind of way that you can't have any system that is completely... you have to have a pressure about, you know? And I think that it's a way in which this kind of enforced masculinity is kind of maintained, by saying 'oh, when you dress up in women's clothing, you are hilarious'. So I think there's an aspect of that.
At the same time, yeah, drag for example is like massively complicated. My take on it these days is like, well, drag is a medium of performance and just like everything else, like different kinds of theatre, or different kinds of film, it can be great and subversive, or it can be completely humiliating and horrible. Just like that.
Paris: I think as well, I know you mentioned transphobia, it's kind of sometimes useful to not always call things transphobic. I think that more and more I'm starting to think of society in terms of cisgenderism. Gavi Ansara, a researcher, is doing some work on this at the moment, and I think that actually cisgenderism is, for people who haven't heard the term before, is kind of like sexism to like... I can't think what's the word I'm looking for... you know, my mind's gone blank...
Paris: Yeah, misogyny. So that's how I'm thinking of things now, rather than transphobia. Apart from things that are basically transphobic, obviously.
Kate: I think there's something kind of broadly sexist about the notion that it's hilarious to get a cis guy and put him in a dress.
Kate: There's something... because, actually, as a cis woman, you can put a suit on and everyone just goes 'you look very smart'. But there's that sense of the idea that wearing a dress is innately humiliating, that there's something about appearing feminine is humiliating. Which somehow, the other way around, doesn't seem to work all that much. We don't see comedy acts that are a cis woman dressed as a guy, because that's not funny, is it? That's just a woman in a suit. But when you see a man in a dress, oh no, that's hilarious because he looks wildly awful. But to be honest, I think there's plenty more to hate about Little Britain to be honest [laughter]. I think we could get on with hating the whole thing, if I had time!
Paris: I think that's true, definitely, that when women are seen to pick up men's things it's acceptable, but for men to pick up women's things is laughable. But I do think it comes down to just kind of gender incongruence, actually. Because if a woman walked down the street like this [pretends to walk like a stereotypical burly bloke], I think she'd get laughed at, you know?
Ariel: Not in rural Ireland.
Paris: Maybe not! [laughter] I think Ireland... I didn't see that actually.
Ariel: It gets very confusing.
Paris: Really? Cultural norms [Ariel nods].
Kate: [to Ariel] What about Argentina? You're so far ahead of the rest of us...
Ariel: Yeah, completely, we have reached the gender utopia! [laughter] We have a female president, there's no...[sarcastic] you know, it's not like Argentina has ten times as many murders of trans people as the UK every year...OH WAIT. Yeah, well, I can't actually tell you in all honesty, because I've not lived in Argentina for eleven years.
Kate: Does anyone else have a question? Oh yeah we do, great.
Question 5: Did you always have family support when you transitioned?
Ariel: Uhm... yeah, my parents live in Ireland and it's... you know, it's been complicated, for them I guess. Like they had no idea or concept of trans people aside from... in Argentina it's interesting, because in Ireland, one thing that trans people talk about, Irish trans people talk about like how there is, like, 'trans' in the Irish popular culture does not exist almost. It's like, completely invisible. In Argentinean popular culture, there are certain trans identities that are very very visible, and you know, like regularly mocked and humiliated, in Argentina. The travesti community very big and like, you know, they're amazing, they're a large part of what got this legislation passed, they're incredible.
And...I feel, yes my parents can figure out all of this, eventually. They never kind of... I was very very lucky, they never kind of outright rejected me or whatever, but I'm very far from my extended family, and so I don't really... I mean, most of one side of the family knows, the other one doesn't because I don't care, and you know... that kind of thing. But mostly my parents have been, even if they use the wrong pronouns for me, whatever, they are very supporting and loving people and when I came out to my brother it was great, we were joking about it right away and it was fantastic.
Kate: I don't know if you wanted to ask the same question to Paris as well?
Audience member: Yeah.
Kate: [to Paris] If you want to say something, then...
Paris: Yeah, I mean, I think everyone goes on a bit of a journey with it. Just to go back to the room, could you put your hand up if you have a trans person in your family or your close friends? [About 2/3 of the room raise their hands] Quite a few people, but not everybody. That's probably the highest rate I've had that, because we go round to a lot of places and ask that, and there's usually kind of one person at the back [does impression of someone putting their hand up sheepishly] going like, you know [quiet voice] 'my aunty'.
Yeah, I think my mum's been on a bit of a journey, but she's arrived, which is good. I don't speak to my dad... he's not really on board with my identity, which is a shame - for him. But yeah, everyone's been really really cool about it, it hasn't really been an issue to be honest. So I think I've been very very lucky because I do have friends who have been kicked out of home and stuff. So it does still happen, but I think less so now, with younger people. And I think it's a lot easier to have family support, if you look at something like Jackie Green, she's going for Miss England, and whatever you think about that, she's living her life the way she wants to, and if you look at the younger generation of trans people who've got the support of their families and you know, they've got no limits. They can just go and do anything. So I think it's really really important to have that actually.
Kate: I might add that both Ariel and Paris have talked about having quite a lot of support from their family, but I think it would be fair to say that that's quite unusual.
Paris and Ariel: Yeah.
Kate: For a lot of people that's not the case. Certainly, when I put my hand up earlier, my very close friend, who's a trans woman, has absolutely no contact with her biological family, absolutely no contact with her adoptive family, having been adopted quite young... but both sides of the whole family. She recently has got back in touch with her daughter, but you know, out of perhaps twenty or thirty people that she could have maintained contact with, that's maybe has just managed to survive one relationship through that process, which...
Paris: Well, I was going to say, maybe that's why we're sitting here and we feel able to kind of tackle stuff, because how can you change things if you don't have the support and love?
Ariel: I would agree with that, like most... I would say that most trans people that I know have had either bad reactions from their family, or been rejected, or been in very long... it took a long time for their families to come to accept. And I would also say that's completely... I feel very lucky and privileged for that, and that it is... this is kind of like a lot of the times that, because you know when young people - a lot of trans people know from a very young age, I didn't, but when these things manifest themselves and parents react badly, it can contribute to long-term trauma I feel. This is one of the ways I feel that gender kind of norms are enforced, through the family. The family as a structure can be so beautiful and such a beneficial thing, but it can also be a completely destructive thing. So that was my long way of saying I agree.
Question 6: I just wanted to ask, because obviously you talked about the law change in Argentina, is there lobbying and campaigning for that sort of law to be passed in the UK, and if there is is there anything that we can do? Actions we can take, petitions we can sign, to support those kind of changes, or is that not something that's really active? Or are there other areas where the campaign has been centred?
Ariel: I can only really talk about Ireland, [to Paris] do you want to talk about the UK?
Paris: I don't want to say that everything's perfect in the UK, but I mean we do have legislation in this country, and that's why I felt that I wanted to focus my activism on the media, because actually we've won a lot of the legal battles, it's actually people's hearts and minds that we need to win now. But I think the Gender Recognition Act, it's not perfect. You don't have to have surgery to get legal recognition of your gender, but I know there's a couple of things that people are unhappy about, especially if you are married, you have to get divorced in order to get your legal gender recognised. So actually trans people have got quite a vested interest in the gay marriage debate. If gay marriage happened we won't really need to get the changes that we want, kind of thing. I don't think there's anything that we need to sign in terms of legal, but there are definitely ways that you can help. So yeah, maybe speak to me at the end or something.
Ariel: The situation in Ireland right now is that after a fifteen year long battle, Doctor Lydia Foy in Ireland two years ago, to have her gender recognised... we don't have legislation in Ireland. The Irish government kept appealing and eventually dropped its appeal and the current government, the partisan government have a raging commitment to gender recognition legislation. They created the Gender Recognition Advisory Group, or GRAG, which generated a report that came out last summer, suggesting what to, to minister Joan Burton, what the legislation should be like, and they asked for submissions from the public, doing their kind of advisory face or whatnot, that they had trans people and partners and family sent about what they wanted. A lot of us talked about our lives and said 'this is what should be had there'. And we were very disappointed when the report of the advisory group was basically a copy of the UK legislation, with all its imperfections, and adding some more. So for example, one of the requirements in this report, one of the recommendations is that people have to have availed of, or be planning to avail of, gender reassignment or gender reaffirmation surgery, which... and of course, the same requirement in terms of people who are married getting a divorce and...
Paris: The prisons are a problem as well. In Ireland, prisoners...
Ariel: Yeah. And it's just... it was... basically we were hoping for something that would be more progressive, more open than the UK legislation, because I mean what's, well, what's been suggested or recommended was something that's less. And you know, we're still working on it, and we're still lobbying with the government in our community and we're hoping that they will listen because I feel that , you know, one of the big fears that the Irish government has is that if you don't force trans people to divorce when they have their gender recognised, then you are having a legal same-sex marriage.
And in Ireland we have marriage, which is for the straights, and civil partnerships which are for the queers, and I've seen a bunch of them which have like... there's a massive list of differences in terms of the rights, children are not protected under civil partnerships, so they are very very scared of having to have that, and the really great thing that has happened is that... in my first year or two of activism in the trans community in Ireland I saw a lot of like, we were constantly trying to get heard, and now we have a lot of the broader LGBT organisations really incorporating us really really strongly in a lot of their campaigning around same-sex marriage. And so the trans community has become much much more visible in that way. But we have to keep up the pressure.
And the thing, when I was talking at the Dublin Civic Offices a couple of days ago, I opened by saying 'you can't say any more that there is no such thing as what we want, because Argentina has just passed it, and if you want, I can translate the PDF and it will just take me ten minutes and I will just email it to you, if there's any legislators around' [laughter]. But yeah, I think in Ireland we're really sorely in need of greater awareness about trans people. We've had some really good, positive friends in the media recently, and, you know, we have our share of transphobes - my favourite is Eilis O'Hanlon, who is just... who basically by disagreeing with her I was apparently... by disagreeing with her hating on trans people, I was 'intolerant' [exaggerated confused face] [laughter]. So yeah, I think, yeah - I am intolerant of intolerance. I'm not going to tolerate intolerance, what can you do? [laughter]
But at the same time we're having a lot of, a lot of really positive stuff coming from the Irish media. Because one of the interesting things about this invisibility of trans people in the Irish media is that a lot of... yeah, there are some people that have all the old cliches and all the old stereotypes that you see, whatever, but a lot of the time people are just like 'oh, trans? What is that? Just tell me, just come along to my programme and tell me', you know? So that kind of like, it's like positive ignorance, almost. You know, because there is no prewritten anything, and that allows us to put our stories through and put our politics through as well.
Paris: Just in terms of lobbying, I think intersex people are left out of equality legislation around the world. I don't think - I mean, correct me if I'm wrong somebody - but I actually don't think intersex people are included in the Equality Act 2010, and I know that's something that they're campaigning for, so if you wanted to help in terms of political lobbying for legislation, I think that intersex people would be really welcoming of allies actually, so yeah.
Kate: I think if it's alright, we might just wrap this session up, because we're massively overrunning.