Saturday, 23 March 2013

monkey hangers



 Have you ever worked in a bar? It's an opportunity to see behind the polite mask of the people you serve; the pushy ones who jump the queue, the ones who treat you with contempt because you're a menial. It is a small insight into how thin can be the veneer of civilisation.

Coming out as transsexual gives you a much better opportunity to see this. For so many people, transsexuals are creatures fabulous as unicorns or camelopards, or as monkeys stranded on the shores of Hartlepool. And because they don't know how they are supposed to behave, they can behave very badly indeed.

It's not that they intend to be bad; it's just that some people fear what they don't know. Of course, the people of Hartlepool are rightly annoyed if you call them 'monkey hangers'. They will tell you that the monkey in question actually got on really well with the locals, all except for the village idiot, who was convinced that the monkey was a french spy, and sold the story to Richard Littlejohn, who denounced it in the Daily Mail. And then the monkey was constantly followed around by newspaper hacks looking for evidence of frenchness about it, until it despaired and jumped into the sea and drowned.

 But that was long ago.

Just, maybe not that long.

So, coming out as trans. People who already knew you will adjust with various degrees of acceptance; "Oh, that figures..." "Oh.... hmmmmm...." "Oh.... I think we can still be friends..."

Some will feel betrayed at the revelation of such a big thing, and go stomping off.

And so on. As for people who didn't know you before, their response to you depends on how well you 'pass'. As I'm talking about my experience in the early days of transitioning, then you can assume correctly that I didn't 'pass' entirely, if at all.

Some people just behave naturally, and good people they are too.

Some try just too hard. "Of course I see you as a woman." "Oh! I met a transsexual woman at a wedding in Bognor; she was really nice; do you know her?"

And then there's the monkey hangers. The blokes who sit in corners muttering darkly, making snide or offensive comments, misgendering you, sticking up little notices with obscene 'jokes' on.

I had a lot of that. It was relentless on the ship I worked on, for two years, from 2002 to 2004. I kept going because I had earned my right to work in that place, and I wasn't going to be beaten by them. But it was hard going.

I do recall the strong sense of betrayal I felt, in January 2004, when I read Julie Bindel's 'Gender Benders Beware' in the Guardian.  Because I expected stupidity and nastiness from my colleagues; but it was a rude shock to find it in a newspaper that I'd previously held in high regard. Although that article was an attack on transsexual identities as a whole (and Kimberley Nixon in particular) I did feel personally injured, not least because it came at a bad time and I was feeling very lonely.

After I'd been assaulted, I finally left P&O, and spent two years prosecuting a case against them. Those were very difficult times, and sometimes the struggle felt almost too hard to continue. I did think of suicide. The two things that kept me going were my daughter, and my determination that the people who had wronged me should not get away with it.

I was lucky. I got through it, and won. Which didn't stop the press from trying their best to put their traditional spin on the story, when it finally broke. But by then, I was on the attack. So I was not as damaged by their nastiness and prurience as I might have been some years before.

But it is still an awful feeling, to see yourself written about in an ignorant and prejudiced way, in a national newspaper. And to know that you have no voice of your own in the world, and no effective means of redress.

Remember Lucy Meadows.