Speaking Sorrow Writing Joy

Yesterday, I spoke to ITV news about the pain caused to LGBTQ+ young people, particularly trans and non-binary young people, by attempted conversion ‘therapy’ – spiritual abuse. I spoke about painful experiences I had a long time ago and a long way away. They were targeted towards the whole of my very being – aiming to change my sexuality and my gender presentation, intended to make me look and behave ‘like a normal girl’ – whatever that means! They had a very serious impact, which lasted for many years and still effects me today. Back when I was a teenager, it caused crippling anxiety to the extent of physical illness.

I had to speak about these experiences, because the government is threatening to remove protection for trans people from the proposed bill banning conversion ‘therapy’. I strongly believe that this is not only wildly unjust, with some commenters having referred to the omission as torture, but also technically impossible. My abusers didn’t know that I am trans, they tried to impact my sexuality and, in doing so, addressed gender norms and presentation. In other words, gender and sexuality can not be so easily uncoupled when responding to religious intolerance and spiritual abuse. T cannot be simply extracted from LGB. Our experiences are different but intertwined.

That’s not really what I want to write about here, though. Rather, I need to address the tone and content of my segment. I spoke to the presenter for some twenty minutes, mostly about how conversion therapy impact trans people, the complex links between gender and sexuality, and the ways in which trans peoples’ dignity and safety are being repeatedly attacked in the U.K. at present. I spoke about politics and theology, as well as my own lived experience. Perhaps it is inevitable that the short clip extracted from that conversation shows me telling the most painful parts of my story, speaking out of emotion, not knowledge. I don’t blame the brilliant presenter, editor and producer telling the story. They have to create the clips that make an impact, not the ones that make us feel good about ourselves.

Sometimes I wonder if I should stop telling my story for this reason. It is rather tiring to speak repeatedly about what you know and what you do, to only be highlighted for who you are and what you have suffered. I know that this is difficult for those who care about me too. Further, most of my writing these days is about trans euphoria, trans joy. Those are the topics that trans and non-binary people today want to focus on, and I love that. I love celebrating our lives, our talents, and our ordinary and yet extraordinary identities. That’s the real story. The genuinely fascinating bit of news is that trans and non-binary folks are everywhere, loving our lives and changing the world for the better. That is so much more interesting than the bits of our lives where we are abused and suffering.

The reality of trans joy is echoed in the letter that sparked yesterday’s interview:

And yet… and yet change is so desperately needed. If we never talk about the ways in which we have been hurt, the people who get hurt next will feel all the more alone. If we never challenge the institutions and individuals who have abused us, then they will continue to abuse more people. If we never put our hands up and say, “Hey, this is what it feels like!”, then who will take the need to protect us seriously? I yearn for a future where I can spend all of my time talking, as well as writing, about trans joy. But we just aren’t there yet.

Do I wish that yesterday’s segment had said a bit more about who I am today, than what I suffered over a decade ago? Of course I do. But I don’t wish I’d omitted my own, true, painful lived experiences from the interview. All I can do is tell my truth, write our theory, and continue to speak out. I will leave you with this amazing song which my strong and courageous mum shared with me. If you are a campaigner, if you speak out about your joy and people only hear your pain, if you use your past to change our future, this is for you.

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