Queer and Now

Poppy Jennings

In the wake of another incredible Pride Month, society is left with both positive and negative questions about what comes next. Amidst the “stop forcing your sexuality down our throats” and “can’t wait ‘til Pride next year”, the activism and celebration still lingers on my mind. After attending the many events of Queer and Now, a Pride festival hosted by Tate Britain for the second year in a row, I am reminded that Pride doesn’t end on the 30thJune. And that’s exactly what the many trans and non-binary activists spoke about during the Intergenderational Questioning Circle at Queer and Now.

The discussion about transgender activism was led by writer, Kuchenga, with questions of the future. With the voices of the trans and wider LGBTQIA+ community getting louder and louder, people are finally starting to listen. While we’re in a crucial time where the rights of trans men and women are changing, it’s enabled us to truly consider a future of equality, a future where prejudice against sexualities and non-binary genders is no longer a part of normality. The one question on everyone’s mind though, is whether it’s utopian and unrealistic to imagine a future where people with queer identities live in harmony with the hetero-normative and cis-gendered of the world.

Terminology is becoming a huge part of movement and activism for the LGBTQIA+ community, and is hugely important when discovering your identity in the face of a cis-gendered, heterosexual world. It opened the discussion at Queer and Now, and led into the introductions of each person’s self-identified pronoun. Alongside pronouns are gender identifiers: Cis-gendered represents those who recognise as their born sexes/genders, and is often shortened to ‘cis’. Hetero-norm refers to the heterosexual community that has, throughout history, dominated as the ‘normal’ way to be, thus excluding non-binary genders, intersex individuals, and transgender. Non-binary refers to individuals who do not recognise as the two binary genders (male and female), for example, intersex and trans persons.

As Kuchenga passed along the microphone, letting the question of acceptance and identity hang in the air, intersex activist Valentino Vecchietti was ready to expose a devastating truth that showed a more dystopian reality of the LGBTQIA+ community. Intersex individuals are often born with sex identifiers of both men and women, and many people may pass through most of their life unaware; this can be anything from chromosomes and sex hormones to genitals. The unfortunate truth of intersex lives, though, is that non-consensual surgeries are still being performed on young or newborn children. At a very tender age, surgeries are performed on these children to remove non-binary identifiers in order to ‘fit’ or ‘conform’ to one gender.

Vecchietti stressed the importance of recognising the I in LGBTQIA+ and the activism desperately needed to stop these surgeries. So often, intersex individuals grow to experience serious identity crises, sometimes with no knowledge of the surgery they underwent without their consent as children. Can you imagine having your gender decided by a stranger long before you yourself have had the chance to explore your own identity? We have to stop imposing heterosexual binary normalities onto people, especially to the extent of surgically changing a person’s gender without consent. It will always do more harm than good, but by being a part of a society that sees gender as something that can be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ we condemn non-binary people.

Taking us from non-consensual surgeries to loneliness in the trans community is AGE UK activist, Ruth Rose, the oldest person to undergo a gender reassignment operation at eighty-two years old. There to represent both the elderly and the trans communities, she reminded us of the importance of connections with family and friends while struggling with pre-op trans life and post-op trans life. More and more people in the later third of their lives are committing to reassignment surgeries. To finally be able to identify as your gender is an extraordinary feeling, but the uncomfortableness and fear still remains for trans people post-op. Ruth talked passionately about the importance of inclusivity of trans and the elderly before addressing a question from the audience:

What can non-trans people do to help expel the loneliness and fear that trans people face in a binary-gendered society?

“Smile,” Ruth said. Something so simple shouldn’t have been a surprising response.

We need to dispel the norms of our society that exclude trans people, including the way we look or address non-binary people. So many people still respond with aversion when coming into contact with trans people; there’s a mix of surprise or disgust still prevalent in cis folk that it only worsens the loneliness and exclusion that transgender people feel. If all cis-gendered people need to do to make someone feel more comfortable is smile, what the hell are we waiting for? Smile at the next stranger you see on the street, smile at the elderly woman waiting for the bus or the person behind you in the queue at Tesco. It’s a step in the right direction to making sure that everyone feels included in the society they live in.

Trans disability activist, Leo Aces Collins, drew our attention then to another truth often overlooked by both the heteronormative and LGBTQIA+ community: disabled people have non-binary genders and sexualities too. Leo expresses the significance of recognising this truth because so many disabled people do not get the support needed when it comes to their sex lives or, indeed, their sexualities. It’s so important to remember that disabled people have sexualities, and it may seem like a really obvious thing to say, but the stigmas of hetero-normative society don’t fully recognise this. People shouldn’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable to talk about disabilities in relation to sex or sexuality, but they often do. Leo works to close the separation between disabled LGBTQIA+ persons and the wider LGBTQIA+ community.

Working to close that cavernous pit filled with prejudice and misrepresentation is everyone that spoke at the Intergenderational Circle, and they all pointed out how crucial it was not to let activism and celebration fall out of the public eye at the end of Pride. It’s important to put yourself out there and make yourself heard, stand up for the LGBTQIA+ community year round and silence the voices of prejudice that don’t want to hear about non-binary genders and sexualities. Take a page out of Charlie Craggs’ book:

Charlie puts herself in the line of prejudice and homophobia everyday. As founder of Nails Transphobia, she travels and offers people the opportunity to sit down with her and get their nails done, completely open to whatever questions on being transgender they might have. She puts herself out there, working to change perceptions of the trans community that cis-gendered, binary people might have. Trans people have a long history of abuse and terror inflicted on them by the cis-gendered of the world, and yet she continues to strive for equality, acceptance and respect that she and the rest of the community deserve.

So it’s important to keep talking, to recognise that as much as Pride is a celebration about how far we’ve come since Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera started the LGBT movement, it’s also an ongoing reminder that we have to keep fighting and moving forward. It’s a reminder of how much left there is to do, and that’s exactly what each of these incredible LGBTQIA+ activists are doing everyday. And it’s what we should be doing too.