The past three weeks have been incredibly draining. I’ve hopped from Brighton, London, Leicester, Oxford, Manchester, and back to Brighton again. I’ve been working at Allsorts Youth Project, with Gendered Intelligence, meeting with the newly formed South Asian LGBT UK collective, freelancing at a panel at the Oxford Radical Forum 2015 and supporting LGBTQI people of colour in the Manchester community at Rainbow Noir’s 2nd birthday celebration.
The past three weeks have been incredibly emotional. I’ve started seeing a counsellor. She’s white, cis gender, but she’s actually great. I haven’t had to hide my true feelings around my gender, or fall into a binary storyline just so she’ll get it. I haven’t had to pretend racism doesn’t exist and ‘we all have differences.’ She said as she isn’t trans or a person of colour she won’t know everything I experience and is open to learning and being corrected. I thanked her. I realise now that I probably shouldn’t have thanked someone for letting me speak freely about my gender and race, especially not a counsellor. Counsellors are required by trade to be open-minded and non-judgemental. But they are not always informed. I’ve also been coming to terms with leaving Brighton. It’s not a decision that I am too excited about, nor is it totally my choice to leave right now, but it’s one that I knew was coming for a while. I have to say goodbye to a lot. I realise now how much of my life I have built here, in so many scenes, pubs, community groups, online spaces, charities, the council, universities. And my friends. Saying goodbye is a long process. I don’t think I’ve ever had to say goodbye like this, knowing it was coming, and preparing to feel loss.
The past three weeks have been incredibly overwhelming. I wrote something a while ago; a piece I called ‘Hairy Situations.’ It didn’t take me long to write it, but, it was difficult. I didn’t put it here for a reason. The only people I showed were my POC (people of colour) friends and hairy brown girls. I kept it safe. I kept myself safe. One day I saw Marianne at xoJane was looking for trans authors. And I thought, “Nothing on my blog is good enough for a super important, super huge online magazine. Plus I haven’t written here in months and months, I think I’ve really lost it this time.” And then I remembered ‘Hairy Situations,’ and as quiet as I was about it, I felt kind of proud. I thought, what the hell; I scrapped the title, edited it and sent Marianne a pitch. Two days later I get a reply; Marianne is going to run it. What excited me the most was that someone who knew nothing about me had read it and seen something important, something worth other people seeing. ‘I Was A Hairy Brown Girl…’ went live on Saturday 21st February.
Five days later and my article has been shared five thousand times.
I cannot express how humbled I feel to have had this opportunity. I cannot express how happy I am that other people, other hairy brown girls and other hairy brown queers, are sharing their stories with every comment, share and tweet. I cannot express how stunned I am that this article has received so much attention, that my name has received so much attention but more importantly my voice has received so much attention. My voice has been heard. Hairy brown girls have been heard.
Yet I cannot express how through all of this I feel somewhat unsettled. It’s impossible to ignore the comments. Read them for yourself and you will see from the start.
Unrelated, but this dude is hot.
The first thing I thought when I clicked on my article was, “Holy God, this author is HOT.” A beautiful person, inside and out.
I’m so glad it wasn’t just me looking at his picture, there in the middle of this gorgeous and poignant article, and thinking “Damn, sir, you are exceptionally fine.”
This was a great piece and I know this isn’t the point of it, like, at all, but I honestly cannot imagine paying attention to the author’s hair when he has THOSE EYES. Damn.
You’re super hot. Oh yeah, and a great writer, and this piece is very thoughtful, yaddah yaddah yaddah. But I’m just going to be real, I’m shallow and I’m dwelling on the hot.
Ugh. I’m ashamed to admit how distracted I got from the article because the author is so good looking. It took three tries to get through. Like a damn model. I feel like a shallow perv. Lol. Otherwise a truly beautifully written article.
It really made me laugh and smile (and blush) when I read the first few comments. (This is only the first few.) And then the comments got attention. And then I got attention. And then I got more attention. And before you think this is a gloat post, please think twice and keep reading.
It made me chuckle and sigh when I read the next few comments. But when I read the rest, I couldn’t shake this feeling of discomfort. Firstly, no one commented on how good-looking my feet are. Secondly, am I being objectified? Is that what’s happening here?
I think about my own experiences of sexism as a woman, and how I learned about the mechanisms behind it, how subtle it is and how well-intended it can seem. I think about being a woman, and how men and women both have objectified me in the past. How often I talk about something so intimate, something that makes me vulnerable, about my childhood, my insecurities, and all the person in front of me can think of is what my eyes look like when I’m sad, how my lips move whilst recounting trauma, and before they know it themselves, they have stopped listening and started lusting.
The discomfort I feel is a loss of control, and I’m sure many women can relate to this. But sexism isn’t just something that happens between men and women. We have a pretty good understanding of the way sexism works and why it hurts women, and I have no doubt a majority of xoJane readers are feminists. But these mechanisms have the power to affect, oppress and objectify trans people too.
It was ironic then, for my article to finish off with a hairy brown fetish.
With trans men and trans-masculine people, I’ve found people try very hard not to deny your masculinity. People around me tend to ‘butch’ me up, tell me misogynist jokes and assume I have the same sexist opinion on a woman as they do. (I don’t agree with any of it but I don’t always contest it; sometimes safety comes first.) There’s a lot of over-compensation even when safety isn’t an issue. The first people who I came out to used nicknames like, ‘bro,’ ‘man,’ and ‘dude’ a lot. An awful lot. They really over-compensated, despite me being comfortable enough without the emphasis on my masculinity. Besides, men can’t be objectified, right?
Misandry! No, I’m not being ironic. I’m talking about objectification of men of colour and trans-masculine people of colour. I really don’t think we think enough about sexism and the impact on trans people of colour, nor transphobia and how that interacts with sexism, racism and misandry. Transphobia has not really been written, spoken or deconstructed in the same way sexism has – sexism has just been around for longer in mainstream discussions. We are incredibly aware of sexism, be it institutional or every day. Combine that with an ethnic identity and heritage, and you have a very complex concept of racialised trans-misandry.
To be honest with you, I feel like trans people are dehumanised constantly. In film we are tragic and/or sexual, on the TV we are a joke, and on the news our identities and true genders are totally denied. We are not represented fairly in the media. And trans people of colour are not represented at all. Judging from how we are treated by society, I don’t think people are going to believe that they can objectify a trans person. It’s appreciation. It’s: “I’m just telling you you’re attractive, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m being respectful about it.” It’s: “I’m not transphobic, I love trans people.”
I get it, people are excited by different things. The article was, by the sounds of it, enormously different from what is usually published. And the author, different from other writers who are mostly women, and different from other men who are mostly horrible. But the romanticisation of this complexity, the complexity of my identity, is still a form of oppression. I feel a disconnect, because I don’t feel like a person.
An inspiring news story comes to mind, the story of Harnaam Kaur, a British Sikh woman with poly cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) who became known for her beard, and notorious for how happy and comfortable with her image she was. It caught like wildfire and women were praising Harnaam for her bravery and her courage. But these comments were back-handed, as despite her being happy with the way she looked, other women really weren’t. Comments like ‘good for her,’ reflected how uncomfortable others were, with little said on her appearance or on her being attractive or beautiful.
I don’t feel all that happy with my body image. My self-esteem is often below average. I have a lot of internalised racism, sexism and transphobia to overcome still. I’m working through a lot around being a hairy brown girl. But most women felt the need to comment on my appearance, reassuring me that I am attractive, so I’m doing okay. As if this subtle objectification is validating. Suddenly I realise I’ve lost control of how people feel about me, how people see me; I am sexual. I am sexualised and I am fetishised. I am a man who understands women. The best of both worlds. An idealised image of a good-looking man with honest experiences of being a woman. Is that what’s missing? Is there safety in the knowledge I am trans? It’s not the first time this kind of fetishisation has been written about.
The past three weeks have given me a lot to think about. I am in the process of understanding and deconstructing how complicated and racialised this issue is, I don’t think it is going to come down to a simple bottom line. But I think this conversation needs to be started.