Somewhere Over the Rainbow
After years of simmering tension, gay, bi, lesbian and trans people can finally call themselves a community. I should know. I’m deep in the heart of it, just as I was deep in the crowd earlier this week when the Independent on Sunday threw a big bash to celebrate its recently revamped Rainbow List, formerly called the Pink List. The change of name is significant.
Pink, in case you hadn’t noticed, is supposed to be for girls. It’s practically illegal now for girls to play with toys that aren’t pink. It’s the colour of Breast Cancer Awareness. It wasn’t always this way though and women and parents should tell the pushers of pink where to go if you ask me, but there’s no doubt that it is seen a girl thing. The idea that the gay community can be neatly summed up by the word pink, as in ‘Pink Pound’, suggests that it’s just a bunch of ‘effeminate’ men. Well some gay men are feminine and that’s great, but our community is a rainbow and finally we’re starting to value the beauty in that.
When I first started writing for the, well, pink press a few years ago, there was a ‘them and us’ mentality on both sides of the fence. On the one hand we had gay people saying, “What’s being trans got to do with me. I’m a gay man”. On the other we had trans people saying, “Well I’m not gay. I’m a woman. It’s nothing to do with sexuality”. People still say and think these things, of course – you only have to look at Kellie Maloney’s comments on gay people to see that distancing oneself from the gay community is still used as a defence mechanism by some trans people. We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. I remember being in a chatroom once, back when I first transitioned, and, I’m ashamed to say, I took the piss out of a cross-dresser for daring to join our conversation. What are you doing in here, I asked. You’re a transvestite. This place is for true transsexuals. Like me. I’m nothing to do with people like you.
So I do get it. In one way or another, people like us – gay, trans, anyone who doesn’t conform to the life their genitals was supposed to dictate for them – have a lot of shit to deal with. A lot of shame. We need ways to feel good about ourselves. Instead of pulling together like we should have done, sometimes we turned upon eachother. As we mature as a community, though, as we collectively begin to look after ourselves and our wellbeing and enjoy the respect we should have had all along, we’re better able to be generous and celebrate one another. And that’s great.
It’s not an entirely new phenomenon. I was honoured to present veteran activist and author Maureen Duffy with an Icon Award at the Attitude Awards last month. Here is a lady who campaigned for the equal age of consent when it didn’t even affect gay women like her. What a woman. So yes, gay men and women have come together over the years to fight the people who mean us harm – and sometimes just to party. Before the internet and growing social acceptance of gender and sexual diversity, the local gay pub was the only place the community had. And that includes trans people. Many, like me, found the gay scene was the first and for many years the only place they could truly be themselves.
Thankfully there are signs of lasting structural change in our community. Following in the steps of GLAAD, which has practically been taken over by trans women in recent years, Stonewall, the largest and perhaps best-known gay charity in Britain, has embarked on an extensive consultation with the trans community. They’ve launched trans inclusive t-shirts, hired a trans person as a fundraiser (not an unimportant job in a charity, by the way) and it’s looking increasingly inevitable that the organization will, on some level, ‘trans up’ the great work it is already doing. Good. Let them get on with it and do for trans people what they’ve been doing for gay people for years, if you ask me. But already you know my thoughts on that anyway.
At the Stonewall Awards last week I was also really encouraged to hear several winners mention trans people in their acceptance speeches. Peter Tatchell wouldn’t make a speech on queer issues without including trans people these days and neither would Stonewall’s Hero of the Year, Pepe Julian Onziema, the first trans person to win a Stonewall Award. We’re part of the conversation now. Your cause is our cause, and vice versa. Your love is my love. (RIP, Whitney). And look at me, luckiest girl in London being invited to join the best gay magazine in the world as Editor-at-Large! Don’t ask me what the title means, but it may well have something to do with the fact that I am frequently at large. But I’m very grateful to the team at Attitude for welcoming me in with both arms. Over the past year I’ve been honoured to represent the magazine at events, meet and interview a range of wonderful people in our community (including, this month, R U Coming Out? Founder Wayne Dhesi) and work with some of the finest gay journalists in Britain. We didn’t have any trans journalists in the gay press ten years ago. We didn’t even have them five years ago. Trans people have a voice. I’m not the only one with something to say, mind you, and I’d love to see more people getting their voices heard too, but it’s a bloody good start. At the Rainbow List party on Tuesday I was amazed by the number of trans people present. And women. And gay men. And drag queens. And people of various racial and cultural backgrounds. It’s probably one of the most diverse events I’ve ever been to. I want to thank the Independent on Sunday’s editor Lisa Markwell and its literary editor Katy Guest for putting their passion into the Rainbow List and welcoming in the trans community. I want to thank the judges, Christine Burns, John Amaechi, Kim Watson, Charlie Condou, Charlotte Henry and Ben Bradshaw. I want to thank Stonewall Chief Executive Ruth Hunt. I want to thank Attitude's editor Matthew Todd and its managing director Mike Buckley. I want to thank Jane Czsyzelska, my former editor at lesbian and bi women’s mag DIVA, who gave me my very first column. And yes, I want to thank Attitude’s rivals GT, Pink News and Gay Star News for taking a chance on me in the past and improving the way they cover trans issues in recent years. I want to thank everyone who is on the side of justice.
I don’t care if you think I’m cheesy: there’s a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow and it’s called equality for all. Celebration of diversity. Accepting and finding joy in our differences rather than trying to emphasize and seek hierarchy in them. Every society must try to move forward, to become kinder, less violent, more knowledgeable, more civilized, and if we are to tackle the important issues we all face moving forwards, we have to conquer the basics and recognize that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. The thing with human rights is, it doesn’t matter who you are – gay, trans, disabled, black, white, rich, or poor – you deserve them as much as the next human. Things aren’t perfect, but they are changing. Comrades, thank you. More from Paris on attitude.co.uk Paris Lees writes open letter thanking Laverne Cox Paris Lees meets FIFA World Cup's first transgender player