Germaine’s Jeers and Tara’s Tears Aren’t News to Trans Women – Here’s What Would Be

By on 2 November, 2015 Filed in Opinions

I hate to break it to you, cis people, but we really donot need to talk about Germaine.

We see you, in the supposedly ‘progressive’ press, endlessly calling for ‘a debate’ on the issue when what you really mean is that you don’t like the way the debate is going when trans people get to have a say.

We see you making a big deal about Greer being no-platformed but being silent about Bahar Mustafa being charged for tweeting #killallwhitemen, or Selma James being banned from speaking at the Feminism in London conference because she supports the rights of sex workers.

And when trans woman Tara Hudson faced a sentence in a prison surrounded by men who continually harassed her by shouting ‘show us your tits’, we saw you clutching your pearls over the fact that Tara, after six years of hormone therapy, still had what The Bristol Post referred to, in some of the most prurient language ever committed to media, as ‘the vestiges of a penis’ and would therefore, in some way, supposedly be a threat to cis female prisoners if she were incarcerated with them…

I’m sorry, does it feel like I’m going on, here? Because sometimes that’s how it sounds to me. And this is the real reason we don’t need to talk about Germaine Greer: because I, like many trans activists and artists, amtired of having the same conversation, the same ‘debate’ again and again.

It’s about ‘free speech’ and ‘contrarianism’ and that bloody Voltaire quote that people love to drag out time and time again like their favourite pair of padded handcuffs but this is not an intellectual exercise to me, or many trans people like me. This is our lives (oh, and incidentally, that quote about freeze peach – you do know your boy Voltaire didn’t actually say that, right?).

And the case of Tara Hudson could not have brought this home to me more clearly. In 2013 I helped make a poetry filmLetter to a Minnesota Prison, about CeCe McDonald, a trans woman of colour condemned to incarceration in a male prison in Minnesota for defending herself against a racist, transphobic attack.

When I wrote that poem, the issue I focused on was the miscarriage of justice at CeCe’s trial: the fact a bounced cheque was considered evidence of her bad character while a swastika tattoo on the body of the man they said she’d murdered was ruled inadmissible in court.

The fact she was locked up in a men’s prison was something I’d become immured to, but it was this which audiences picked up as the most salient point. Because despite the megaphone sections of the mainstream media seem only too happy to hand the likes of Greer, the vast majority of people can immediately see how horrible it is to imprison a woman, trans or cis, alongside men.

But that majority seemed not to include the UK Ministry of Justice, who initially locked Tara Hudson up with the male population at HMP Bristol – a prison found, on independent inspection, to be unsafe – solely because she lacked a Gender Recognition Certificate and was, in their eyes, not legally a woman.

On those grounds, I would fail too. I don’t have a GRC, and have no wish to apply for one. Why should I spend £140 and gather psychiatric opinions and paperwork to be submitted to a panel who have less contact with me than my GIC in order to qualify as what I am? I didn’t need a GRC to change my name, or the gender and name on my bank account, or to convince my employers in my last day job to gender me correctly.

But if I get attacked, defend myself, and find myself facing an assault charge, then my refusal to pay what Sarah Savage calls the Trans Tax could see me banged up with a bunch of blokes.

Here was the situation I’d decried when writing about an American case, happening on my home turf. Here was my certainty that this could never happen here, born of many conversations with audiences after screening my film, or performances of the poem, being rejected at the highest level of government.

Here was a British judge, hearing Tara’s appeal, washing his hands of her case and saying it was a matter for the Prison Service, who in turn passed the buck back to the Ministry of Justice. And here was a mainstream media which, as a grassroots campaign attracted over 150,000 signatures to a petition calling for Hudson to be transferred to a women’s prison, seemed less concerned about her freedom from harassment and violence and more concerned with Germaine Greer’s freedom to say what she likes about trans women.

And it made me feel tired. Because here we are in 2015, having to say all these things again. I’ve made a decision, in my writing and performance, to try and move away from just doing trans activist stuff, but how can I do that when things like this are happening?

The audience at my Manchester gig last Thursday all got my Germaine Greer reference but Tara’s case was news to some – and this was an explicitly queer and feminist venue. When I have to be the trans CNN at gigs in my own community, how can Inot take on that responsibility when addressing cis heterosexual audiences?

If queer poets have a duty to be visible against a growing homophobic backlash, as Sophia Walker argues in her interview withQueer’Say, then doesn’t that mean I have to use my own tiny megaphone to try and squeak out something contrary to the deafening blare of those defending Greer?

Increasingly I want my writing and performance to be a conversation with my audiences about things we experience together whether we’re trans or cis – the tyranny of romance, for example – but how can I when voices much, much more amplified than my own seem intent on othering trans women and stressing only what divides us from the cis majority?

I’m tired. So many of us in the trans community are tired. Cis journalists, who don’t have to deal with the reality trans people face on a daily basis – a reality sharply illustrated by the existence of events like the Trans Day of Remembrance every November – are free to treat discussions about no-platforming as a bagatelle because their safety will never be threatened by anything Greer might say. In a world where so-called ‘feminists’ who take their inspiration from Greer delight in harassing trans people both online and in real life, we simply do not have that luxury.

There is hope. There’s hope in the fact that so many people, many of them cis, signed Tara’s petition. There’s hope in the fact that said petition succeeded, and Tara has now been moved to a women’s prison. There’s even hope in the fact that some cis commentators are beginning to appreciate just how tired trans activists are. But when you are that tired you greet those signs of hope with weary relief, rather than celebration, and you’re always too aware of how fragile they are, and how loud are the voices raised against you.

The fact that Germaine Greer hates trans people is not news. The fact that the legal system is riddled with structural discrimination against trans people isn’t news either – to us. But when news outlets decide to devote more space to advocate for Greer’s rights than Hudson’s – or when, as in the case of Gary Younge, they engage in a bizarre, perplexing piece of doublethink which apparently blames Tara Hudson’s imprisonment on those campaigning against Greer – then as weary as we are, and as desperate as we are to tell some other stories, those of us in the trans community who are lucky enough to have a voice on some level will drag ourselves back into the fray again, however much it hurts.

What would be news would be a world where we no longer have to.