Tag Archives: Intersectionality

Thinking intersectionally about abuse

It feels as if there is a big conversation happening currently about abuse and sexual violence, one that is going beyond the single narrative of violence by men towards women. For LGBT+ people, and particularly trans people, who whatever their gender are disproportionately abused, this is very important. I write about this, in response to the #MeToo viral campaign, in my latest article in The Queerness.

The danger of opening out the discussion and realising that people are abused, not just women, is that we can erase much of the good work that feminism has done in highlighting structural inequalities that particularly affect women, and enable abuse. The Harvey Weinstein saga and others like it has not happened in a gender neutral context, and it’s dangerous to pretend it has. With that in mind, I responded to an article in BACP Therapy Today that to me went backwards rather than forwards, erasing the good feminist work that’s been done around abuse that highlights the abuser’s power as an essential ingredient for abuse to happen.

My letter is shared in full here:

It was at once heartening and disappointing to read Phil Mitchell’s piece about men’s experience of abuse in Boys can be victims too, October issue.

It is very important that we raise awareness of male victimhood and also female perpetration, however it’s sad that when this happens it so often comes with a side attack on feminist approaches to violence. As someone who has worked in this field for a long time, I wish to develop the feminist model, but not throw it out. There are very good reasons for including power analysis in our appreciation of abuse. What is limiting is a non-intersectional appreciation where the power differential between men and women is noted, but other power differentials are ignored. Mitchell’s approach seems to be, rather than note the other power differentials that exist, to attempt to erase misogyny.

Mitchell states “what is common to all victims of CSE is not their age, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation, but their powerless and vulnerability” and yet we know that powerlessness and vulnerability can be caused by those very things Mitchell lists. We know looked after children are more vulnerable to abuse, children in general are more vulnerable than adults, disabled and neurodiverse people more vulnerable than able/neurotypical, etc.

Particularly absent from the discussion, despite referring to gay clients, is the established research data that LGBT+ children experience higher levels of abuse than their straight counterparts. Around 50% of trans people, whether men, women or non-binary, experience childhood sexual abuse. In a society that stigmatises and marginalises gender non-conformity, and disbelieves or rejects the narratives of LGBT+ kids, it’s not hard to imagine the reasons why predators target them.

Finally, Mitchell makes a bold and unsubstantiated claim, that the skewed figures suggesting women experience higher levels of abuse are false. And yet, this imbalance holds over a number of different studies and methodologies, including anonymous self-reporting. As a practitioner, I can assure Mitchell that women also under-report, and that 15 year old girls also cling to the idea that having adult “boyfriends” is something special, and conceal the abusive nature of the relationship from themselves and others.

The myth that women and girls find it easy to speak up about abuse is particularly problematic. Of the women clients I have worked with, a tiny handful have spoken up and still less have been supported and believed. Having worked with both male, female and non-binary clients, I can confirm that much of what Mitchell reports is by no means specific to male victims, although of course there will be specific social narratives and dynamics in play for all diverse groups of people, and certainly dismantling our ideas around male power, invulnerability and masculinity is a feminist issue that ultimately will assist male victims.

Abuse is a multi-determined phenomenon and I agree we should take all victimisation equally seriously, as a disadvantage in and of itself that can lead to future inequalities. However, that does not excuse us from noting the many power differentials that enable abuse to happen, including misogyny. If we are not aware of these power differentials, how may we ensure they do not replicate themselves in the therapy room?

 

We need to widen the feminist dialogue, not dismiss it. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality gives us the framework to understand that power dynamics are not single issue and that gender is just one factor within a complex web of structural inequalities that exist in society. Through this lens, we can look at female perpetration, male victimhood, and the disproportionate burden of abuse that falls on the LGBT+ community and other minority groups.

As a pro-intersectional feminist, the work I do with people who have endured abuse and oppression will always be informed by an understanding of power dynamics, and an awareness of the complex nature of these. This takes a great deal of self-reflection and exploring of unconscious biases, but the therapist who does not want to see these structures cannot possibly work safely with their effects.

Follow Sam on Twitter (@Sam_R_Hope)

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Unconscious Bias in the Therapy Room

Some thoughts about unconscious bias from a therapist’s perspective, with a handy resource list at the end of the article

In my recent article for Beyond the Binary, I wrote:

Many counsellors have a warm and fluffy idea in their hearts that they can just turn [empathy, congruence, and “unconditional positive regard”] on, pluck them out of the air and offer them to clients. But people in a majority or socially supported position, no matter how well meaning, are often so protected in their assumptions about the world that they don’t even know they are making assumptions.

How can you offer a non-judgemental approach if you are making assumptions you don’t even know about? Isn’t an assumption the basis of a judgement?

I will give an example. A non-binary person walks into a counselling room. The counsellor looks at them, and before they speak, the counsellor has already probably made the judgement we all are trained from birth to make about people – do I label them male or female? Do I call them he or she? Behind that assumption are a whole bunch of other assumptions that go with the labels – even the most feminist of us cannot fully escape the enormous web of ideas and stories that go with assigning a gender to a person. . . .

I have been trained from birth to judge them.

Unconscious bias

What I was talking about above is unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias is a good way of starting to think about the structures that create inequality. We often think about prejudice as “hate” – an active loathing of people or groups we don’t belong to, but we don’t manage to see this far more subtle process of stacking the decks against people, that even the best of us accidentally engage in.

In my recent workshop “Unconscious Bias in the Therapy Room”, we explored this process, and how it will cause us to judge our clients without realising we are doing so. This judgement will lead to failures in our empathy, and our lack of awareness will mean we are not fully congruent. In other words, unless we actively work to explore and uncover our conscious biases, we will fail to offer the Core Conditions to clients.

Where do these unconscious biases come from?

They are built one on top of the other by the stories people tell, and of course the people who get to tell the most stories, or control how the stories get told, will have the greatest influence over them – so, if we look at films and media, we see a bias in who gets represented and how. Often, even if we are hearing a story about a person from a minority background, the newsreader, story writer, documentary maker, is from a more socially supported position. That is, less likely to be working class, black or ethnic minority, LGBT+, a woman, disabled, fat, etc.

Studies show all sorts of unconscious bias against these groups such as hiring biases for jobs, and a disinclination to consume stories about or by these less favoured groups. Even by people from the groups themselves, because we internalise these biases even when we belong to that group. A process called “stereotype threat” can even make people from minority groups struggle and underperform in the face of bias.

But don’t all people have these biases? Isn’t it evolutionary?

Well, yes and no. Yes, because we do naturally favour and feel safer with the familiar over the unfamiliar, but no, because the scales are a bit more wonky than that. You see, black people are also quite likely to show a bias against black people, women against women, etc. That’s where it becomes more than just a thing people will do in a vacuum, and becomes about the social stories the dominant culture has built up over years and years.

So, as a white person I have been subtly programmed to block my ears to black voices, to treat them with slightly less generosity, and slightly more doubt. To make positive assumptions a fraction of a second more slowly, negative assumptions a fraction quicker.

If I ever doubted this was true, and I do think it has taken me a lifetime to even begin to open my eyes to my unconscious racism, I had it proved to me when I took the Harvard Implicit Association Test. I urge everyone to do this.

Sure enough, when I took the race test I showed a negative bias towards black people, much as I like to think I work hard to rid myself of racist ideas and thoughts.

What can we, as counsellors, do to address unconscious bias?

We can never fully overturn the weight of history and so many biased stories, but we can change a lot. All we need to do is have the humility to accept we are, like everyone else, influenced by social norms and ideas, and then start doing the work to question them and take our learning outside of them.

My own journey with this started when I did the diversity module of my counselling diploma. I received an excellent piece of advice.

It’s okay to be curious.

I now hold this idea close to my heart in the form of one of my favourite quotes, by Walt Whitman: “be curious, not judgemental”. In other words, discover. And to discover, we need to somehow find a way of letting go of everything we think we already know. We need to approach a subject fresh and humble, and willing to hear and learn.

This is not as easy as it may sound in a society that weighs some voices greater than those of others. For a person from a more dominant culture to approach a subject with a sense of “not knowing” requires a certain amount of deprogramming. We can often resist what we hear if it doesn’t fit what’s been unconsciously absorbed through our culture. It is likely a deep-down message will be telling us “I know better”, when we listen to people from less dominant groups.

And we are all in that dominant position, or outside of a marginal experience, in one way or another. For instance, although trans, queer and somewhat disabled, I am white, I am not poor, I am able to work.

Getting started on addressing unconscious bias

In a whole lifetime we can never uncover every assumption we unknowingly make about the world, or undo all our early social learning. And that’s okay, because we can still do some amazing work and it will inspire us, make us more creative, make us better listeners and better counsellors. All that’s required of us is to start reflectively interacting with what marginalised and minority groups have to teach us.

And accept we need to be taught.

The quality of humility, openness, curiosity, discovery is essential, but the medium can vary – travel, film, social media, books, blogs, comics. We just need to weigh what we consume – is the source generally respected by the group it claims to represent? Will it challenge us or simply comfort us?

Staying with the discomfort

A little discomfort is necessary for growth. When we leave our comfort zone we are going to experience shame we don’t want, and we are going to hear the righteous anger of people who experience systematic disadvantages. What we do with our shame and their anger is crucial.

It may be we are wise enough to realise the disproportionate emotional labour done by members of disadvantaged groups – explaining, educating, struggling and bearing. So perhaps we can try not to make them bear the burden of our shame or our discomfort with their anger. Instead, we take it to therapy, perhaps, or our reflective journal, or talk it through with others who have worked through the same issues.

We are there to listen. We have to hold onto our questions and our doubts. Sit with them and they may well resolve themselves, but if we mire people in our rookie questions we increase their burden to educate us individually, and reduce their opportunity for effective activism.

Of course, we have to accept the fact that we are a “rookie” here. If we are in the one-up position in society, the world grooms us to think our thoughts are wise and their explanations are in error. This is part of what we have to unlearn.

Never “getting there” and never giving up

This will never be over, and never cease to reward our labour with amazing discoveries.

We will keep making blunders on the way. It’s for us to dust ourselves down and accept the consequences of those blunders. To hold onto ourselves, and persevere.

As a consequence, life will be richer. It may also be significantly less comfortable. Trust me, though, it’s worth the work – for us, for our clients, and for this vulnerable little blue planet.

 

Some resources for the journey

Here are some of my favourite resources. They are far from comprehensive, and may well reflect my own unconscious biases – please let me know what’s missing, and share your own favourites!

To begin to look at your biases and explore your advantages, as well as the Harvard Implicit Association Test, there is:

Some eye-opening online articles:

Some important online videos:

Websites to browse or follow on social media:

On top of the people featured in the above articles and videos, here are some other people worth learning more about – and some surprising things still to learn about people we think we may already know.

Must-see films:

  • I, Daniel Blake
  • Two Spirits: an hour long must-see documentary about Native American people that makes us question culture, race, colonisation and what it is to be LGBT

Must-read Books:

  • Feminism is For Everyone by Bell Hooks
  • Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine

 

 

 

 

A Critical Look at the Hate Crime Agenda

The following is a transcript of my talk at the Five Leaves Bookshop event on LGBT Hate Crime. I would particularly like to thank Onni Gust for their assistance in my research and structuring of the talk, the US organFive Leaves Bookshopisation Against Equality for their excellent resources on the subject, and Dee Fairchild for her proof-reading and encouragement.

This talk is going to be challenging, and I also want to give a content warning for discussions of various kinds of violence, including sexual violence. I spent a lot of time researching what I have to say today, and I hope to boost perspectives from parts of my community that have less of a voice.

I want to focus on the experiences of the trans community, but most of what I have to say is applicable to other minorities who experience hate crime.

When you are part of the trans community, hate crime becomes an everyday thing. Most of the trans women I know, and many of the trans men and non-binary people I know, have experienced hate-motivated violence – stabbing, beating, sexual assault, corrective rape, having their doors kicked in, vandalism and offensive graffiti on their homes, to name but a few. What is alarming is that most hate crime towards the trans community goes unreported. We know that reported hate crime against trans people is disproportionately high – government put it at 1% of crimes reported. That doesn’t sound much but when trans people represent more like only a quarter to a half percent of the population, that’s a lot. We also know from research by London LGBT charity Galop that as much as 80% of crimes against trans people go unreported.

My own personal experience of hate was of being driven close to suicide due to online harassment and defamation of character. This was from organised and socially powerful individuals who campaign tirelessly against the rights and recognition of transgender people. At one point things got so bad I did turn to the police out of desperation. They were kind but unhelpful and uneducated on trans issues. I learned that there is no such thing in law as hate speech against trans people, and no protection for us against incitement to hate crime.

Neil Chakraborti of the Leicester Centre for Hate Studies, who gave evidence to the recent Transgender Equality Inquiry has this to say:

“there are no incitement provisions around the stirring of hate towards trans people, but yet there are those provisions for other groups.  Interestingly there aren’t provisions for disabled people either, so it’s very much the trans community and people with physical and learning disabilities who are left out of the equation when it comes to the incitement of hate.”

He goes on to say:

“It’s frustrating that on the one hand we tell the trans community that we’re there for you, come and report your incidents and somebody will listen to you and that we want to learn from your experiences, but on the other hand we don’t have equivalent hate crime provisions as we do for the other monitored strands.”

Neil Chakraborti

So one of the barriers, then, is a lack of parity in law. But it gets more complicated still, because all the laws in the world will never put any but the most extreme and marginal figures before the courts. Trans people are currently in a position where most people are ill-informed about us, disrespectful reporting is standard, and academics and media representatives can say the most outrageous things about us without any loss of reputation, let alone other sanctions. In fact, it is becoming quite popular to take verbal pot-shots at our community in order to boost a waning academic career or increase ratings.

Our community’s surge in visibility and initial gaining of rights and recognition is double edged in this respect, as this shift in power we have experienced can be seen as threatening to some. That we have gone from utterly powerless to only slightly less so is not the point, the point for some is that we have shifted out of our place in society, and those people seek to put us back in our place.

It is this general climate of disrespect that is the background to hate crime against us, which can leave us sometimes feeling as if the general society message is that it’s socially acceptable to make fun of us, disrespect us, delegitimize us, look down on us, just so long as nobody steps over any lines.

Here’s Neil Chakraborti of the Leicester Centre for Hate Studies again:

“Those people we’ve spoken to through our research who’ve experienced transphobic hate crime have talked about there being a direct relationship between media representation and their experiences of hostility, discrimination and even violence.  I think that’s where real problems are when it comes to media reporting and can have some serious consequences for people.  I do definitely believe that there’s a correlation between representations through the media, and even political representations, the language we use, the normalisation of stereotypes, I think there’s a direct link between that and experiences of hostility.”

Neil Chakraborti pic
Neil Chakraborti giving oral evidence at the Transgender Equality Inquiry

Meanwhile, media representation of hate crime often also subtly manipulates our attention towards other vulnerable communities, pitting us against each other. Last year a friend of mine was in local news following a series of hate attacks. What’s wrong with the people of Mansfield? Was the question asked on local radio about her experiences. They problematised this poorer and more insular community. When in a related radio interview I tried to turn the tables on the media for their representation of trans people, they simply did not put my piece on air. But I feel the media hold structural power in this situation far more than the street-level folk of Mansfield, and it is their influence that perpetuates the problems we experience.

That great thinker and renaissance man Akala has something similar to say on the subject of race:

“all this nonsense about people being racist because they’re frustrated about their lives is totally classist, what we’re saying is only working class people are racist . . . racism was not invented by working class people, it was invented by elite academics . . . and perpetuated as part of political policy – from the top down, not the bottom up”

akala
Akala confronting EDL leader

I think what he says is equally true of transphobia. It is academia, government and the media that support the structural inequalities that make hate crime possible.

Another concerning phenomenon to me is the way the media presents LGBT hate crime overseas. We often ignore the way our own culture has framed and intervened in the countries where homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are rife. We disregard the fact that war stirs up other kinds of violence, so that for instance we talk about oppressive crimes under ISIS or in Afghanistan in the context of Islam rather than the context of a war torn country. Meanwhile the media largely ignored the rounding up of trans people into camps in troubled but then right wing and Christian Greece in 2013. We talk about India and Uganda’s attitudes to LGBT people without mentioning it was the British Empire that exported those attitudes. In doing this, we reinforce our rights to intervene in these countries or judge them. Hate crime is exploited to reinforce Western dominance and superiority.

Is it possible that our focus on hate crime legislation also serves to pit the vulnerable against the vulnerable in a similar way?

I am reminded of my former work in domestic violence. I quickly learned that those brought before the court to answer for their attacks on women do not accurately reflect the structures of power that are in place against women. When I went to observe the domestic violence courts in action I was shocked to see a parade of vulnerable, generally young men, many with poor mental health, many of them black, almost all of them from deprived backgrounds. True power does not get itself caught up in the justice system. It knows what it can get away with and it also makes the laws and runs the structures that govern us.

We know that many marginalised minorities are over-represented in the prison population. For trans people this is no different, and the reasons are complex and multi-layered. Trans people suffer disproportionately from poor mental health which is directly related to lack of social support, discrimination, poor healthcare, poor housing, unemployment and psychological trauma. Trans people are less likely to be in employment, and more likely to be harassed or discriminated against at work. Trans people are even more likely than other LGBT people to become homeless or be poorly or vulnerably housed. Massive health inequality was recently flagged up in the Government’s Transgender Equality Inquiry as a major issue for the trans community. As with many oppressed communities, drug and alcohol abuse are issues within our community. Some of our medicines, if not prescribed to us, are considered class C drugs, and of course some of us in desperation turn to illegal markets for the drugs we need. Trans people are more likely to live in poverty. Trans people are more likely to find opportunities through sex work when there is a lack of other opportunity, and when we are sexualised and objectified. Trans people are more likely to experience sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Trans people’s experience of domestic violence is disproportionately high. We are often, as with other LGBT people, considered the aggressors if we defend ourselves against attack, simply because people look on us with prejudice.

So, like most other minorities, we are thought to be over-represented in the prison system, and we might not always feel that prison is the answer in the way others who have never brushed with the law might feel. And we might not feel safe and trusting to approach the police. We might not expect a fair hearing. We don’t always act like the model minority and our sometimes messy lives may invite more judgement than sympathy.

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Transgender woman Vikki Thompson, who committed suicide in a male prison in 2015

If we are people of colour, if we are from deprived areas, if we are sex workers, if we have poor mental health, if we are asylum seekers or immigrants, then we may be even less likely to feel the police are there to protect us.

We might also feel that sending hate criminals to prisons when many of us are in those prisons is not going to reduce harm to our community, and so we might feel ambivalent about enhanced sentences for hate crime. Particularly when we know that 75% of prisoners reoffend when they come out. Particularly when we know that non-custodial sentences can be better at reducing offending. Particularly when we know that the legislation is not actually reducing crimes against us.

When it comes to the police, many of us in the trans community are sincerely grateful for how much things have changed for the better. But there’s still a long way to go. Some of us are white and able and middle class and have never felt ourselves to have a complicated relationship with law enforcement. Those people often have the biggest voices, too. But we need to really work at understanding how different the experience is for those of us from even more marginalised communities. Those of us who have mental health difficulties or are neurodivergent, those from communities of colour, those who are sex workers, those who are vulnerably housed and homeless or live in poverty, those who are addicted to substances, those who have uncertain immigration status or are seeking asylum. We need, as a community, to protect and include those vulnerable people and that means putting their needs first and foremost, including showing understanding that they may not view the police as a protective presence.

The hard work has to come from the police and not from us, and the police need to be big and strong enough not to be upset and offended when we are critical. Or when we ask for them to do better for those most vulnerable, or listen to us more, or not put themselves into the middle of our social organising until we’re sure everyone feels safe about that.

Some, such as academic Wendy Brown, have argued that hate crime legislation creates an illusion of equality whilst in fact reinforcing structural power. It increastates of injuryses the power of the state over its citizens. It justifies the need for greater law enforcement and increased incarceration. At the same time it devolves power away from the community and towards the state, asking the community to trust and look up to its protection, even as the state continues to perpetuate legislative inequalities.

This may be an extreme way of looking at things, but at a time when we seem to be questioning whether we can afford to look after our vulnerable citizens I find it somewhat puzzling that we still feel we can afford to incarcerate them.

Prison is expensive. The yearly cost of just one inmate could fund a full time school counsellor. The cost of incarcerating one person could fund two full-time workers raising awareness of trans issues in schools and colleges. As prisons become privatised, we start to suspect that our traumas are being exploited to create inventory for these businesses, while tackling the underlying issues that create our traumas is deemed unaffordable in these times of austerity.

At the same time, we do not seem to be able to provide adequate support to the victims of hate crime and their loved ones and communities. Many of my trans friends suffer from PTSD and access to therapy for this is extremely patchy.

Against Equality”, an organisation in the US who gave me much to think about in my research, have this to say:

“Hate crimes don’t occur because there aren’t enough laws against them, and hate crimes won’t stop when those laws are in place. Hate crimes occur because, time and time again, our society demonstrates that certain people are worth less than others; that certain people are wrong, are perverse, are immoral in their very being.

“Creating more laws wilagainst equalityl not help our communities. Organizing for the passage of these kind of laws simply takes the time and energy out of communities that could instead spend the time creating alternative systems and building communities capable of starting transformative justice processes. Hate crimes bills are a distraction from the vital work necessary for community safety.”

So where does this leave us? On the one hand, of course, I want trans people to feel safe to report crimes against them and for those crimes to be taken seriously. Particularly as it is those most marginalised people I mentioned previously who are also most at risk of hate crime. I want to overcome the barriers – the fear of being outed, the fear of making it worse, the fear of not being taken seriously or not being understood or treated well. The lack of trans awareness within the police that reflects that of the general population and the media.

My own work has focussed on awareness raising and community building. I have found through experience that giving our community a voice and building relationships and understanding with the wider community is more powerful than any legislation.

I would like to quote Jess Bradley from the organisation Action for Trans Health:

 “We are unconvinced that hate crime legislation is an appropriate tool for combating transphobia due to its poor record as a deterrent and low engagement from the trans community. We believe a focus on education, awareness and combating medical neglect is more appropriate a response to transphobia”

The work I and others have done in Nottinghamshire to create a set of Safer Space Guidelines is I believe at the core of how we go forward. Instead of people who aren’t trans telling us what we need, it’s time, respectfully, that people began listening to this community. The guidelines, which can be found on the Notts Trans Hub Website, set out ways in which people can consult us and consider how they interact with us.

One of the repeating themes the trans community face is that everyone has the freedom to speak how they like about us, but when we respond with criticism our own free speech is deemed “too much” for people. I agree, it’s a big adjustment to even begin to adapt to our needs and treat us fairly. But society won’t be equal when everyone who hates us is locked up. Society will be equal when people see no reason to hate us.

Learning from my elders

Image: yellow bell-shaped flower with red leaves behindI was told when I was a counselling student that teaching is by far the best way to learn about anything. This month’s learning was gained by delivering Trans Awareness Training to Age UK Nottingham.

The Trans Awareness part comes easily, obviously. Not only am I a lifelong (non-binary) member of the trans community myself, but I have spent years advocating for trans women, particularly in spaces that have not historically been friendly and welcoming for trans women. I wasn’t always a knowledgeable ally, I made a lot of mistakes on the way, but I learnt.

I am also married to a trans man, and am an active participant in my local trans community, and a seasoned campaigner. I like to think, and I hope, that I’ve been good at absorbing and understanding the diversity of stories the trans community has to tell.

But it’s easy to stumble when it comes to listening to our elders. Elders often speak in an older language and we think we know better. Elder trans experiences were forged in an environment unimaginable today, and so sometimes their experiences feel less relevant. When an older person tells me that transgender was just image: Alexis, 64, Chicago - a brown-skinned trans woman, close-up of her face“something she went through” on the way to being a woman, that she rejects the idea of trans as an identity to be proud and accepting of, I know her world is very different from mine, and that I must tune in hard in order to be sure I don’t dismiss what she is saying to me.

Because, particularly in the past, and particularly for women, transgender or transsexual has been a qualifier, a diminisher. When added to the word “woman” it was not a neutral descriptive adjective, but almost a negating one. Where “trans” should have simply stated what kind of woman you were, it instead undermined your woman-ness. No wonder so many people with a transgender history wanted to drop the adjective entirely, and simply be understood as men and women.

I remember, some time ago, speaking to a stealth trans man and telling him how different things are now – that my partner and I have had our struggles, but that we feel relatively safe to be out in our workplaces and in our social lives. Violence and harassment are not a thing of the past but things really are getting better.

My research teaches me how much things have changed, and changed because of pioneers like Christine Jorgensen and Lili Elbe, warriors and outlaws like Kate Bornstein and the late great Leslie Feinberg , campaigners like Press for Change’s Professor Stephen Whittle, and Stonewall veterans Marsha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera.

And it also teaches me how difficult things have been for so very long, and the reason why so many of us have hidden our trans nature until laterImage: Richard O'Brien - full length shot, he is wearing a classy pale skirt and wrap-top, high heels than we might have liked. I think Richard O’Brien’s story brings this home to me more than anything. This is the person who wrote the words “don’t dream it, be it” at age 31, and yet was unable to come out as a non-binary transgender person until the age of 67.

My training brings in the words of two contrasting trans women. The wonderful Alice, whose beautiful poetry I had the chance to hear last year at Brighton Trans Pride, speaks eloquently of her relatively late transition in her My Genderation film. Joanne Keatley, in this recent Daily Beast article, tells the other side of the story, What it was like to transition 50 years ago.

Both tales are mirror images – neither Alice nor Joanne were afforded the opportunity to be out in the open, free of hate and stigma, in their early lives. Both took a long time to find a community and I appreciate the idea of a trans community is still probably an anathema to many trans people who were sold the importance of being assimilated into mainstream culture and becoming as invisible as they possibly could.

I often reflect on how much luckier trans guys (a group I sort-of fall into) are for being relatively invisible, but I don’t think that invisibility is necessarily a good thing, nor is it exactly a privilege. It affords you relative safety from direct violence and harassment, but it is a condition that is inherently psychologically oppressive. To keep your head down and not raise your voice about just how much things need to change is suffocating. Both the closet and a stealth life may afford relative safety but neither are anything close to freedom.

Anyone who knows me knows my passion for intersectionality, the idea put forward by Kimberlé Crenshaw that the feminist movement is nothing if it does not take other oppressions, particularly the oppression of black women, into account. This is equally true when the trans community ignores ageism and how we might neglect and ignore the needs and stories of older trans folks that do not tally with our own.

A realisation hit me as I thought about trans ageing – many trans folk don’t expect to grow old, and if they do, they fear it. The health inequalities, compounded by poverty, assault, HIV, mental health and suicide, and difficulty accessing generic healthcare with a trans history, mean we  have a right to be worried, but the positive health outcomes for our treatment, both physical and psychological, are cause for optimism.

When we do think of ageing, we think of the disrespect and abuse sometimes afforded older, and particularly frail or sick, people. We think of how our trans status might compound this. We think oimage: red hawthorn berries against green leavesf how our sometimes unusual bodies may be treated and responded to when we are given personal care. We wonder how we will fare – whether we will be treated, housed and clothed according to our gender when we lose the freedom to make our own decisions, and we wonder if anyone will understand the vital importance of this.

As more and more of us come out and live our true lives before it’s too late, the necessity of making the world safe and respectful for our trans elders and our future selves becomes increasingly clear to me.