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. 


  1. She has been in my heart this week.

  2. Her death has affected a lot of people, Tara; so much anger and dismay. I didn't want to hark back yet again to my own experience, but it at least provided me with an insight into how it feels to be at the wrong end of the press.

    Thank you, Delia.

  3. I know nothing about the subject at all and so would normally keep quiet. However, I am astounded that transgender is such a problem for folk. What on earth is it that threatens people so much? Am I being terribly naïve to think we are all human beings and the gender / sexual aspect of our lives is the lesser, not the greater part of it? We are all in trouble if we are to be categorised on this as the major part of ourselves.

    It saddens me to hear you had such a bad time because of who you are, Dru. I am so pleased you have found your footing.

  4. Thanks for writing this, Dru.

    The pedantic me has to point out that camelopards really do exist - they're just giraffes, with the same number of neck bones as anyone else, getting on with their lives and worrying about where they're going to find the next acacia tree - but perhaps that was your point?

  5. Ted is volunteering for peeing duty.

  6. thanks, Bella. I've got over the stuff that was thrown at me, but I'm angry that Lucy should have been subjected to criticism from such vile people as Littlejohn. you can probably tell...

    It was indeed my point, Cathy; back when they were a cross between a camel and a leopard, they were still fabulous beasts. Which reminds me, there's apparently a rhinoceros in a church in North Devon somewhere. Must make enquiries.

    Good old Ted, Deb!