I’m autistic, so social problems as a child were inevitable; but when things got hard and I found myself crying in my room – did I wish things would be easier with friends? No, instead I wished to be a girl.
Back then (about 15 years ago) a man showing any degree of femininity was a joke, let alone a ‘tranny’. So I grew up terrified of showing even the slightest sign of femininity and with no notion of who I really was. But as the years rolled by, I started to be less afraid of showing femininity and was gradually able to be more true to myself. Eventually as confidence grew, I finally admitted to the world what with hindsight, was obvious all along – that I was a woman not a man.
Unlike being trans, becoming Quaker was far harder to foresee. I grew up in a family with parents who didn’t understand religion and saw god as like a child’s invisible friend. It took many years for me to accept religion, let alone considering becoming a Quaker.
Christmas 2019 came around (6 months after coming out), and a conversation with a friend about Quakers meant I discovered that a Young Friends General Meeting was happening just two months later in my home of York. I have eating problems, and being able to eat at home would make attending YFGM so much easier. If I wanted to give Quakers a go, now was my chance, but I felt I needed to have gone to a few local meetings first. Hence a great scramble to clear my diary ensued and I found myself heading to the first meeting of 2020.
It’s a beautiful walk along the river to meeting, yet this particular morning was awful and I walked into the foyer covered in thick waterproofs and soaked through. I went up to reception to say hello, unsure of what to expect. The lady on reception was lovely and we chatted for a moment before she directed me to the women’s loos to dry my coat.
To anyone else such a remark would be insignificant, yet what it meant was that she saw me as a woman and acted accordingly, with no questions or comments about being trans. My face wasn’t very feminine back then and when wearing waterproofs, the only real clue to my gender was my skirt. I’ve never before or since had a receptionist do this – they all assume you’re a man and generally correcting them just isn’t worth the argument. It sounds silly for that moment to be such a positive thing, but to walk in to a place and feel immediately accepted is a powerful thing.
The Friends at the meeting were wonderful and welcomed me openly. The fact I was trans was never mentioned nor seemed important to them – they seemed so happy to have a new person there and that was more than enough for them. In the meetings that followed, I found a home in Quakers and I’ve never looked back.
February YFGM came and it was a whirlwind! Unbeknownst to me the focus of this particular YFGM was trans issues – never have I spoken so much about trans issues in so little time. So by Sunday morning I found myself desperately looking forward to the respite of meeting for worship.
Towards the end of meeting for worship a lady stood to speak…
She never explicitly said trans women, but what she meant was clear. It was clear she came here to do this, specifically to oppose younger friends support of trans people and to instruct us on the dangers of accepting trans people. She spoke of her experiences of sexual assault and clearly saw myself and other trans people as a threat. When someone feels threatened, it’s hard to know what they will do next (let alone as an autistic) and I genuinely feared her picking me out, at the very least to shout abuse at. I was frightened.
I suddenly felt very vulnerable and alone in a place I loved for how safe I felt.
In those few seconds as she started to speak, I decided I needed to get out. I wasn’t the only one to walk out, another trans person walked out too. Somehow this whole thing had really gotten to me, and I ended up collapsed in an armchair in the foyer in almost a form of shock.
As a local, I wanted to hear local notices and I thought if I slipped back in at the end, at least I wouldn’t be allowing this whole thing to overcome me, but when the moment came for visitors and new attenders to introduce themselves, I felt compelled to finally formally introduce myself:
“…It is no secret I’m trans, yet the welcome and kindness I received here has been like nothing else I have experienced, and I want to say thank you.”
I had a number of friends come to me after and say thank you – I think they needed something positive from such a difficult moment.
After that meeting, there has been efforts to reach out to the woman who spoke. Hopefully in time she might come to terms with what happened to her and realise trans people are not to blame, but she is not the only one who feels so strongly (in Quakers and outside) and there are many reasons why they have these beliefs.
It’s easy for things to feel helpless when the government won’t listen, when it feels like the NHS would rather we die than help us, and when even Quakers see our existence as a debate. At times it gets the better of me, and I find myself arguing with people on Twitter in some hopeless bid to make these people see us as human. Though I know I shouldn’t do it, you do at least learn something of their views.
Perhaps the biggest lesson is how people wish to focus on the things that make us different. If we focus on the things that make white people and black people different, then we know the racism so easily follows. If we focus on what makes women and men different, then all too often the only outcome is sexism. So it is no surprise that when we focus on the difference between trans people and the wider world, the only real outcome is prejudice.
I think we need to ask how we are the same, before we ask how we are different, because there is far less that divides us than unites us.