Thursday 20-11-2014 - 17:05
This is a guest article by 'Name not known'. I’ve just returned from a Trans Awareness workshop organised by my university’s LGBT+ society as part of the awareness week in the run up to Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).
Trigger warnings: transphobia, ableism, police brutality, sexual assault, bereavement, suicide
Note: this blog is based on personal experience. In no way do I wish to undermine the shocking proportion of names on the TDOR list from elsewhere on the globe.
I’ve just returned from a Trans Awareness workshop organised by my university’s LGBT+ society as part of the awareness week in the run up to Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). I feel sick and shaky. I’m finding this week really difficult, and really emotional – far more so than in previous years.
This is the third year the society has organised events for and in the run-up to TDOR. In the first two years, I was heavily involved in planning and facilitating the week. Not this year. And the reasons for my not being involved overlap pretty much entirely, I’d say, with the reasons why I’m finding this week so hard.
I am amazed that I am not on this year’s TDOR list.
At NUS LGBT conference earlier this year, I shared my experience of having police officers threaten to sexually harass me when I asked to be searched by an officer of the same gender as myself. I think I might have shared that I was in the process of getting an ME diagnosis, my symptoms having began just as I started my PhD. I didn’t share a more recent event related to my trans status: I had become homeless. I have been homeless or vulnerably housed for six months of this year.
I became homeless having been driven out of my student house by a transphobic and ableist housemate. It started with me asking nicely for her to use the correct pronouns when referring to me. Soon I was subjected to snide comments about my sex life and my personal hygiene, constantly being told I was lazy because I often stayed in pyjamas and didn’t leave the house (see above: I have ME), being told I had no right to exist, and that having a problem with her response showed me to be mentally weak, the list goes on. It culminated in a series of posts publically mocking trans people on facebook, with clear hints that they referenced me, and comments stating that anyone who dared to raise a finger against them was being oversensitive and didn’t have a sense of humour.
I felt really unsafe there. And beyond the immediate danger, the stress of the situation was also aggravating my ME. I gave notice to my landlord, and started couchsurfing. In a lot of official capacities, the fact it was I who gave notice means that I was considered to be homeless by choice, so there were a lot of avenues which I could not take in finding housing. So, I couchsurfed around friends’ houses. It was heart-warming how friends stepped-up, regardless of their own commitments, to offer me somewhere to crash. Nevertheless, not knowing where I’d be sleeping from one night to the less was taking its toll: another stressful situation again aggravating my ME symptoms, not to mention the physical exertion of carting my life around on my back wherever I went.
I eventually managed to organise to move into emergency accommodation in one of the university’s halls of residence. In many ways this worked well: being catered saved me a lot of energy, and served to regulate my sleep cycle a bit. But being in a new environment meant having to gauge exactly how my trans-ness would sit with a whole new group of people. (And, as a minus, being catered meant I would be seen not only by those on my corridor, but also others in the dining hall on a regular basis.) Again, I’d say the corridor I was lumped in with were a pretty good bunch: once the message got out that I was actually a “he” – understandably a while, considering why I was there – they took to it fairly quickly. However, this was an Undergraduate hall, which meant I could only really stay there for two months – until the end of a contract designed for Undergraduates, i.e. people the university expects to go “home” for the summer.
This was followed by another two month stint in another hall (again, until that contract ended). So again a whole new group of people. At the end of this I was expecting to move somewhere more permanent, but that fell through, so I was back to couchsurfing – primarily at my partner’s.
At this point, I think it’s worth pointing out the response I got when I went to my SU for help. I got told that this wouldn’t be covered by the University’s anti-bullying policy, so why not get involved in trans awareness campaigning to make it less likely to happen to others.
I HAD BEEN DOING PRECISELY THAT THE LAST TWO YEARS. Surely the job of a union is to back me up on that, not tell me that I should be doing it when I already do. So, if the university’s anti-bullying policy doesn’t cover the discriminatory harassment of a housemate when that harassment occurs in privately rented housing, maybe the union should be looking into trying to change that policy, or facilitating reparations some other way. And I don’t mean by mediation, which was the only other option presented to me. Firstly, I shouldn’t have to “mediate” my trans status. I shouldn’t have to change the way I express my gender. Neither do I have anything to mediate in terms of my disability. I can’t just try to be a bit less disabled or a bit less trans so that transphobic and ableist people find it easier to “rub along”. Secondly, mediation places me right back in the position of advocating for myself, rather than supporting me in a situation where the other party clearly has the position of privilege. As a trans person, I am constantly having to advocate for myself. My union, as an organisation which claims to act for my liberation, should not be pushing me to do so yet more: it should be advocating on my behalf. This advocacy would play out both in better communication within the union and across the university of trans issues, including of the events individuals such as myself put a lot into organising, and in representation on situations such as that which arose with my housemate. As it was, no one was there to back me up in telling that she was in the wrong, and why. For me to continue to do so was to put myself at risk. This would not be the case in the same way for a representative of the university or the union as an institution.
To make the move out of my second temporary halls room doubly fun, I got a phone call from my Dad three days before I was planning to move saying that I might need to go to London to say goodbye to my Mum. However, he’d call me the next day to confirm if I needed to. He presented it very much as if everything could very much be on the up again the next day. He didn’t call me in the morning, which I assumed meant everything was fine. So I just stayed in bed – I hadn’t slept well wondering if my Mum was dying or not. At around 1pm I decided to call him, thinking to confirm my assumption that “no news is good news, right?”
Wrong. He’d just not called me because he thought I’d be in bed. And there I was, in bed because he hadn’t called. Cue last-minute, extremely stressed journey across the country to London in a wheelchair - which I was using because my first hormone injection (ie. something I’d been looking forward to for years), had made the leg pain I get from my ME soar to new heights.
My mum’s decline had been fairly rapid in any case, being over only a couple of months. I, however, had one day’s notice of her death, where it turned out others had had weeks to plan ahead. And this because I, being trans, disabled, and vulnerably house and soon to be homeless again “had enough on my plate”. Because having that news suddenly is really going to help. (Yes. That is sarcasm.)
Being without a stable home is pretty disruptive to anyone’s life. It became impossible to commit to any work or social commitments, and if I had I probably would have missed them because the stress had made me so forgetful and unreliable. Having been put in this situation due to my trans status and disability, to find out that due again to these two (and the homelessness situation that had developed already due to them), finding out that no one had the respect to let me know what was coming (my Mum’s death) when they clearly did was just what I needed. Because I was trans, disabled, and homeless (because of being trans and disabled), they didn’t think I was functional enough as a human being to give me the warning they gave others. When my Dad asked if I was coming to visit on my Mum’s birthday (only ten days before her death), he must have known what was coming. Yet, when I said that I had to travel north the next day, so thought I shouldn’t be doing that straight after going to London for the sake of my health, he did nothing to encourage me to change my arrangements.
I’d already had several of my closest shaves with suicide when I was in my temporary halls’ addresses. It’s hard to keep up the things which maintain what remains of your mental health when you have no stable environment within which you can establish a routine of doing so. I returned to study about six weeks ago following time off which was meant to be for moving house, but turned into being for bereavement. When I returned, I was still couch-surfing. (Props in particular to the group from my first temporary hall who let me stay in their central house when I had a hospital appointment.) So, in the weeks I would have needed to be around in order to take part in organising the week, I was either off in London helping organise a funeral, or sleeping nowhere stable in my university city, trying to find somewhere to live. Now I have somewhere (more) permanent, and everyone (or so it seems – certainly my supervisors, who said so explicitly) expects me to be back to how I was “before this past year”! I had another of my closest shaves with suicide yesterday.
It could have been me.