INT: Okay, this is Rory, interviewing…
INT: And it’s 15 May 2014. Hi, Luc, thank you for doing this.
L: Hi, Rory.
INT: I’ll start off with some really simple questions. You’ve said your name. Can you share with us how old you are, please?
L: Yes, I’m very nearly 55.
INT: And how do you identify your gender?
L: Transgender queer, I also use titles like, less now, androgyne and occasionally I’ll even say trans intersexual. So, my identity is electively hermaphroditic basically.
INT: Great, I think I might have to ask you a few more questions about that, actually.
INT: Oh, I’ll come back to that. Why are you taking part in this project?
L: I think it’s as a conscious Brighton trans community resident, if we can suggest that there is such a thing as the community. I moved to Brighton nearly three years ago, and specifically to come and not be living in a Devon town as the only “andro in the village”. And it’s important to be normalising the number of trans people there are generally in the nation and hopefully in our more free city, or our free country, the normalisation acceptance here has a ripple out effect globally to the places where trans is just not acceptable, alongside a general LGB and T non-acceptability, and so that’s really important to me.
INT: Brilliant! Thank you. So, when you talked about your gender identity then, you threw out loads of words and loads of fairly big words. Would you be so kind to sort of explain a bit more about some of those.
L: Okay sure. I feel as though I didn’t have an absolute kind of realisation in my mind until I was 40 years old, when I had my head shaved for charity and I saw this kind of neutral looking bonce of mine and thought “Oh my God, this is it! I’m androgyne and there were plenty of clues, beforehand, up to that point, but because there was no language about that in society, androgynous sort of described perhaps how lesbians were dressing in the seventies and now there as a much more androgynous crossover of dressing for women which isn’t the – cis-gendered women – which isn’t the same from, you know, males dressing in skirts, it’s still not sort of de rigueur and normal. So I was creating my own language, hence having these various titles. But at age 40, I said androgyne and… but I didn’t really talk about it to other people, I didn’t have a sense that they would know what I was talking about and I shortened it to andro, it wasn’t until I was age 48 that I actually started on a transition via a gender clinic in the south-west, with that title and had some first chest surgery to kind of neutralise my body. Later, unexpectedly I took testosterone, when I realised I actually wanted to express what I’ve said as elective hermaphrodism, that need to have masculine physiology, on the outside to express what I experienced on the inside. So, for me, androgyne meant not male or female, so a neutrality, but at the same time a dual-gender, a bi-genderedness, of both male and female and now, reluctantly because I wasn’t born intersex and I didn’t go through those challenges, I didn’t say trans-intersexual, I use it now experimentally, it’s not even a phrase that’s in Wikipedia until somebody’s published some articles on that. Whether that’ll be me or someone else will get there first, I don’t know.
But transgender queer, is also kind of just expressing being not at either of the binary ends of the gender spectrum basically.
INT: You mentioned that you started off at the gender clinic in Devon, as someone who identifies outside of a binary gender, how was that as an experience for you?
L: I think I was very lucky, because I actually had a trans counsellor and psychotherapist there who worked with me for four years and was very accepting and sort of talked about having… “oh, I met one other person on a bus who said they were androgyne”. So, even for them it wasn’t a common terminology and yet, I had that sympathy and a back up to have some surgery, that wasn’t cosmetic, that was considered to be gender-based, albeit private, through a surgeon in Exeter, but… and then sort of 18 months later, when I thought, “No, actually I need to take testosterone as well, I was blazing a trail, I think I was possibly one of the only people in the gender clinic who was being given hormones and surgery under that kind of transgender queer identity at the time, which was 2007… 2008 through ’11 when I moved here.
INT: And when you moved to Brighton, were you still under the care of a gender clinic?
L: I had a transfer to the Charing Cross, and that took about a year and I’ve been going to Charing Cross for the last 18 months, because I had a request to have further chest surgery to now actually masculinise my chest, so that it matched the fact that I was taking testosterone and getting a bit of hairy chest. I just have identified more with the transmasculine side now and I think that’s a reflection of my age, I’ve kind of done 50 years as trying to be a happy female, and I kind of had enough, but maybe, you know, the testosterone changes your psyche, it does bring a kind of more male thinking in, so that makes sense. So I’ve… it’s been a bit of a personal political journey to see if I could have the surgery on the NHS and have that recognition, and amazingly it’s happening, so at the end of the July I’m going to the Nuffield in Brighton to have my chest surgery, which is great.
INT: Brilliant. And – I’m intrigued – is the gender clinic in London, after having been in Devon, were they… did they deal with your case as sort of without any questions or were they suddenly a bit thrown because of your non-binary identity.
L: I think they were a bit thrown, although I had some fantastic reports written by the last consultant I saw in Devon and also from this counsellor/therapist, who were really supportive and my “he/she/they” identity and I had to see three consultants at Charing Cross for them to kind of determine that I was kosher, almost and I guess in the end I think the consultants felt that, you know, I was choosing to be more transmasculine and therefore that was kind of acceptence. If I really had fought a case of “I’m really neutral! I’m really in the middle!” I don’t think necessarily that I would have had the yes to surgery.
INT: Okay, so you’ve got your surgery coming up in the summer, do you feel that… how do you feel about that in terms of your transition? Do you feel that might be an end point or is it… how is it… what is transition to you [in the first place]?
L: Okay, I don’t think… it’s probably an end point in terms of surgery, unless… another trans-male, who’s a doctor said to me recently “Oh, maybe you’re going to have to have a hysterectomy because of age and osteopathy [sic] and hormones. So the transition doesn’t change any more than it does for a cis-gendered person in the sense that you age and your hormones shift and I wouldn’t be changing… I wouldn’t be electing to have lower surgery, for instance, so, the transition, it’s more a part of just being a human being, that you change with the years, you know, whether you have these dramatic changes every seven years, you know, like your Saturn return at 28, and your… maybe your puberty at 14 or whatever, I think that carries on through your life, so I guess I’m heading for the next big is 56, next year, my 8th number 7.
INT: Brilliant. So, moving on now, because we don’t want to dwell on gender clinics for too long. I’m really intrigued about your non-binary identity. What are the aspects of your gender that you enjoy?
L: Interesting question. I don’t think there’s a huge shift, I think there’s a political pressure on me to assume almost new language, new ways of dressing, just to be noticed, just to be acknowledged as trans now. One of the ironies of coming to Brighton with there’s such kind of acceptance of gay lesbianism is that I don’t… I could quite easily be seen as “Oh there’s a butch dyke, maybe they’re doing a bit T, because look, they’ve got a bit of 5 o’clock shadow” but I really don’t want to be seen as a lesbian, that’s not my identity. What was the question again?
INT: I was just asking about what aspects of your gender that you enjoy?
L: Oh, oh yeah, okay. So, I think one of the things that I’ve done throughout my life, to sort of express my difference was dressing differently and ironically, you know, and kind of experimenting as a teenager, when I had my first kind of allowance/pocket money to go down the Oxfam shop and into the gender neutral changing room there, albeit that I didn’t recognise those things, that that freedom, I was often accused of being tarty, or whoreish, and being… these terms were used against me, or when I cut my hair, you know. My boyfriends and parent and it was so ironic, because I really was this closet asexual, so but it was how I played with identity, but without having that kind of conscious awareness that that what I was doing and now I’ve got more of a masculine wardrobe, but it’s a dual wardrobe, it’s an enormous wardrobe, because I’ve worked at Oxfam for a long time and also Shabitat’s Shabby Chic department in this city. So, it’s also… but that’s linked in with kind of being an artist and I feel like my wardrobe is my pallet and I’ve trained in colour therapy, I’m very colour obsessive, which is probably a factor of having Aspergers Syndrome. So, there isn’t a sort of separate playing with gender, it’s mixed in with being artist, being Aspe, just a cis-gendered person, it doesn’t really have to think and say what’s your gender, or how do you express that. I think it is about… a lot of it is about whether you choose to be a bling person with nail polish as, you know, anywhere on the spectrum or whether you’re more neutrally dressed and you’re stumping out there in the woodland with your green and brown on, whatever, that’s pretty much the way I see it as people expressing their gender. That’s a freedom in the west, where people have got the quality of jobs now, certainly that wasn’t the same in the sixties and seventies when I was growing up and a teenager.
INT: I’ve got two questions that have come out of that, and they’re both quite separate, so I’ll just do one at a time, and I think the first off is, you’ve mentioned being an Aspe, can you tell us more about that?
L: Okay, Aspe in like andro, it’s a shortening of Aspergers Syndrome. It was another trans-male who suggested that I might on the spectrum and Aspergers Syndrome is at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum and there’s actually a 20% higher incidence amongst trans people of having Aspergers Syndrome. In Brighton, unusually there is an adult support group, and I joined that and also made a request through psychiatry to have the neuro-behavioural clinic’s assessment of whether I was or not, I’d done self-assessment online, which anyone can do, usually with the Cambridge expert, Simon Baron Cohen’s various tests and I had self-tested as quite possibly being Aspe. It’s been a huge revelation to me and a relief, because it’s kind of answered a lot of problem issues and queries that I had around my challenges of relating to people, which effectively stopped me having a degree, having a career, having partnerships, because I just felt this veil between me and kind of socialising and getting on normally with people. So, that’s answered things, made things a little bit easier, it’s also made me… it’s given me another label that’s a bit self-conscious making, it’s also another label to be political about and be… having to do a kind of daily awareness, education, take on in my life. Does that answer your question?
INT: Yeah. And as a… I mean to some people having Aspergers is seen as a disability, how do you feel about that as a sort of a label I guess, and does it impact on your ability to express your gender and any kind of transition that you’ve had?
L: I don’t feel as though the Aspe side of me has been compromised or has compromised my trans journey, or trans identity at all, perhaps it’s even enhanced it, if there is this prevalence amongst trans people. One of the big aspects of being Aspe is this honesty, this… a sense of integrity, that you can’t kind of lie, so I’ve always had to just express who I was, whether I was getting in trouble for it, or for what I was saying, or for how I was dressing, or whatever, I had to be kind of have my own personal integrity.
I actually… I’m not working but I do a lot of voluntary work in Brighton that is about disability in that I have a bi-polar level two disorder, diagnosis, I also have been living with fibromyalgia, which is similarly and invisible disability for probably 40+ years, although I only had that diagnosed about six years ago. So, with a lot of these kind of realisations about my life, which have impacted hugely on my health, my mental health, my self identity, my experience of sexuality and partnerships have been going on since I was, you know… my depression started when puberty set in at 11, so for 40 years I’ve had a very challenging time and it’s only in the last 15 years, or 10 years really, that I’ve had this awareness and acted upon it, in terms of first the trans and then the fibro awareness, also having a bi-polar diagnosis instead of just being a uni-polar depressive, and so in the city I’m very conscious of giving back in a community, I do voluntary work for Mind, also Mind Out, I’m almost a rep for Assert as a trans person and I now work with the Fed, which is people with predominately more physical disabilities but also crossing over into the neuro-behavourial and mental health, because everything’s pretty much intertwined.
So, yes, Aspergers has had, you know, as I said, no career, no partnership, no degree, etc. It has created limits and sort of disabling factors in my life, but I’ve had a very different life that, you know, it’s success on different levels and I sit now on the Trans Alliance with my hat on as a member of Mind Live, which is listening to the voice of experience, so for mental health service users and similarly with a sense of connection with Mind Out, LGBT mental health services and Assert as I say.
INT: You’ve talked a lot about community groups that you’re involved in, do you think there’s a trans community in Brighton and if so what’s your view of it, or experience of it, or involvement with it?
L: Okay. I’m not absolutely sure about this, I’m certainly sure that there isn’t an LGBT community, I’m somebody who doesn’t really like that acronym or any particular acronyms, I don’t know BME as an acronym, I think I find them quite sub-humanly limiting in that they just lump people together with huge differences and I think it’s really about political management of society rather than anything else. I would have the T separated but I don’t think necessarily there’s really a trans community, we say that in that there’s quite a high ratio population of transgender identifying people in this city, for instance, and similarly it’s known as a kind of gay capital of Europe too. My sense… I’m quite happy to be out amongst anyone, I think actually I find it easier to just be going to events that are homogeneous and probably predominately cis-gendered, I’m very often… I don’t feel like I’m the token trans person, I always have to explain myself as such so that I get called the pronouns that I’d like, “he” or “they”. But I don’t really want to be out there being a trans person, I want to have a kind of ”normal” life, just being a person with all my interests, foibles, etc.
There is sometimes a sense of community when I go to, for instance the Claire Project, when I’m happy to receive some counselling, or when we create Trans Pride, there’s a sense of that populous coming together and working with our trans issues as a commonality, so perhaps that could be seen as a definition of community. But I see us all being quite separate individuals, leading incredibly varied lives, you know, some people being very professional, others of us being disabled, some people have neuro-behavioural, others learning disabilities, students, young people growing up within families, people being parents, whatever, we’re just like the width of general society’s experience.
INT: And you mentioned that you’re working with Mind Live and the Trans Alliance and other groups in the city, what does activism mean to you and is it better to be quiet or noisy, like how do you… what do you think of on that?
L: Okay, activism. I think I mentioned that I feel like I have to be sort of personally political about a lot of my life because disabilities are marginalised, sexuality was much more marginalised when I was, you know, a teenager in the seventies, and was having bisexual experience and emotions and that was totally unacceptable, it was also very unacceptable in the eighties, and it still isn’t that well embraced by the so called LGBT community and the wider society really. So, there is a sense of always having to be political and now, as I feel like an asexual, there’s another thing to be active and – what was the word we were using? Oh yeah, activism, so for me I go back to being what I really enjoy about myself is colour and being an artist, being a photographer and a writer, and so I can employ those whether it’s making banners, whether it’s appearing… I was very proud to be appearing on stage and doing some performance poetry booming into a microphone in the rain, for the first Trans Pride, last year – 2013. I have been talking about, maybe doing some creative writing, or reading workshops, I already lead some sort of recycled, creative recycling art workshops with groups of people with mental health service user, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t make that a part of activism, really and I think, what does it mean? It’s just, as I said, it’s about normalisation and acceptance and I think the more varied the experience it is, it isn’t really just about banners waving, it’s about showing how very human we all are, we’re just, you know, my ideal identity is as “person”. I write a blog, that’s called “Person is not a rude word”. I would love it if we could seeing each other, more as a person, not a gender identity, not a sexual identity, not an ability, a bodily ability person, you know, bodily ability identity, just person.
INT: You mentioned things about mental health, what’s your experience been of accessing mental health services, as someone who identifies as transgender queer, or trans-intersexual and… I can’t…
L: Androgyne, just call me andro. I think it’s quite a bone of contention really, in that it’s… well it’s a controversial area, perhaps that’s a better phrase, that transgenderism and gender dysphoria and the desire to transition is still regarded as being a mental health disorder. So that means that once you’ve gone to the psychiatrist, and I was already known to psychiatrists, I had already been part of community mental health teams in Devon and now similarly in Brighton, the fact that I would be then going to a gender clinic and seeing a psychiatric consultant there, meant that that was the sum total of my mental health treatment. I can now access in Brighton going to some recovery places, which I do maybe for mindfulness or for art or creative writing, but I would not be given… I couldn’t for instance get as much mental health input maybe that I want, if they found out, okay, well, you see a trans counsellor, that’s enough. But actually when… in Devon, when I was seeing a trans counsellor, the issues were about gender, but we didn’t really have time to address what that meant in terms of coping with my bi-polar issues and I wasn’t… didn’t then have access to go to a psychiatrist to get help about my medication. So that’s quite ironic, and I think I, as a person on the Trans Alliance, and speaking with the council regarding the trans scrutiny that’s being looked at in Brighton, have been talking about these issues, this, you know, there is a gap here that people do need to be seen as having mental health issues that are linked, but separate to their trans dysphoria, gender confusion, whatever you want to call it.
INT: Speaking of the council, I mean life in Brighton and accessing council services and all kind of stuff, what’s your experience of being a trans umbrella person in the city?
L: I’ve… perhaps it’s in some respects early for me to say having only been here, you know, coming up to three years this summer. I have not had to face employment search issues, because I’m unable to work and nobody in the voluntary sector has put up any barriers, which is fantastic. Mostly, I would say there’s positive, but I think people have to show a positivism towards me and I tick those boxes on the disability and ethnicity and equal opportunities, diversity. I fill in so many tick boxes, I’m probably the statistician’s dream. So sometimes it’s hard to see these issues objectively, but, you know, and sometimes I know I can use my “trans card”, so to speak, as being a real factor that does create isolation if I’m looking for some housing support for the future, but it’s linked in with the fact that I have other disabilities, so it’s hard for me to separate the trans identity issues out really.
INT: Oh, the question I had has just gone from my mind. It will come back. So, you’ve got all these different tick boxes on the form, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how in what ways you tick those boxes. I mean you’ve obviously mentioned disability.
L: Oh, I’m thinking of things like having, you know, writing down Aspergers is usually, I put a tick “Other” because they don’t actually put neuro-behavioural condition as one of the general tick boxes now. For instance, on some forms I’m very excited when there is an “Other gender” tick box and there’s usually a line, “Please state” and I can put any number of my trans identities texts that I want down, but that’s still not common and to every form they quite often just ask if you’re male/female. In terms of ethnicity, I’m white and British with a quarter Irish, so that’s not an issue, but I do tick boxes for having mental health and physical disability issues. And, you know, I will probably tick a box of other under sexuality and write “Asexuality” that does not come up as a normal… makes me think actually, is it a form of sexuality, because it’s really an option to not be genitally sexual, but it doesn’t, with a partner, but it doesn’t make reference to whom you want to be with. Whether that’s a pan-sexual choice that includes being with a trans person, or whether it’s a… you know, am I now a gay transmasculine person, I don’t know. I guess I’m politicising the fact that asexuality exists in our highly, highly sexed up society. So I tick that box and write it just to increase awareness.
INT: In terms of relationships, you’ve alluded to several times for not really having access to… or had them more I think, so is it… and you obviously talked eloquently about your asexuality, is a relationship something that you would like to have, or is it something that doesn’t interest you at all?
L: It’s not that it doesn’t interest me at all, it’s the complexity of it and I think that reflects the difficulty for me as a person with Aspergers, there’s part of me that feels that now, having transitioned, I could only be with a person who was either born intersex or who identifies as genderqueer, in that they would have the understanding of what I’d gone through, but I really don’t want to put those limitations, who knows, I might fall in love with a cis-gendered woman again, I really don’t know, I… the doors are open [LAUGHS] as well as being slightly shut, a bit like the western, the half stable doors flapping in the wind [LAUGHS] I don’t know which way they’re going to go. I think it’s been really about… it’s more about bi-polar, relationships tend to make me very spiked on my moods and it’s complicated. Maybe a companionship will emerge in my future, I’m not sure.
INT: And in terms of sort of family and those kind of relationships, do you… are you… do you have a relationship with your family?
L: Sure, my parents are still alive, in their eighties and I have two siblings and one lives in London and the other in Devon and I see them all. They’ve been pretty good, coming along with me, transitioning along with me and accepting my name changes. I was christianed Lucy, from teenage I was nicknamed, well, just shortened name to Luc[e], and I was very… I’m comfortably with that and officially changed my name to that after I started my transition and surgery back in 2008, but people who had a history with me were still using female pronouns with me and not making a transition to me being something different on the gender spectrum. That’s still a problem for my parents, less so I think my sibling sisters, I now call them “sibs”, they can… I think they feel I’m sort of thrusting my politics down their throats a bit, but I do find it quite upsetting when people don’t make the effort, I don’t want to… it doesn’t feel right to be called a daughter any more, it just… I don’t really have any female, sense of female identity, I really don’t and that’s really shifted and whether, as I say, that’s something that the testosterone does to the psyche, it just feels so inappropriate. But they’ve been, you know, fabulous in supporting me with surgery and my sister’s going to help me – from London – going to help me this summer, which is fantastic and they mix and sometimes they’ll write “Luc” on the outside of envelopes, but call me “Luce” or often when I was growing up I was known as “Lu” and “Luey”, which if they’d spelt other than Lu or Luey, they could have been “Lou” – male name – or “Louis” – male name. So I’ve had this kind of gender-neutral name all along, and they quite often call me Lu and Luey, as a way around it, I think.
INT: I’m just… I’m just trying to refer back to that question I had a little bit earlier, but it just… it’s gone from my mind completely. Do you feel that you want to… I mean… I guess I’m asking a sort of broader question about family and relationships and that maybe you don’t know what the future might hold in that respect, but do you have any hopes for the future for any sort of sense of any kind of family that’s not relating to, you know, siblings and parents or things like that? Do you follow what I’m trying to ask?
L: Yes I do and well, I’m debating whether I’m going to be able to even look after a little pooch in the future, a little dog, I think I didn’t ever want children, for instance, I was very clear about that, but as a teenager I had more of a sense of my mental distress and so I really didn’t want to pass that on to a child, that was my consciousness then, I couldn’t relate to my kind of female cycle, it meant nothing to me, so to lose that was nothing. I really hadn’t experienced broodiness in that sense of family. I guess I… I probably do think differently from kind of neuro-typical on what friendships and emotional sentimental relationships mean, because a lot of those, what we’re talking about, family and relationships is so hooked into the Hollywood/Bollywood, magazine, style, Hallmark Cards idea of how emotions and sentimentality and love should be expressed that I just there are wider experiences of what family could be, so maybe it does for me include the new trans friends that I’m making here, but equally cis-gendered, heterosexual friends too, whatever, any sexuality friends really, because I’ve just bumped into somebody I used to be at school with, in Kent, as a teenager and we have just sort of picked up where we left off 30 years ago, and so there’s almost like a kind of sense of familiarity, is that family, you know, picking up with someone who you were close with then and haven’t seen for so long? I’ve had a friend in Brighton who I met 20-odd years ago, back in Devon, and he moved to Brighton and lived in Kemptown, he’s a gay man. Nineteen years ago and I spent 15 years coming and having holidays in Brighton every two or three years to visit Kyle and becoming quite familiar with the city and that helped me make a decision about coming to live here, because here was my oldest and closest friend. So, in a sense he’s family really.
Yes, new members could be added, they could be even of the canine nature in future [LAUGHS] or they could just be inanimate plastic dolls, again.
INT: You’ve mentioned a couple of times about how your transition or… not transition but your sort of gender identities and how that’s impacted on your life in terms of access to education and you mentioned a couple of times that you haven’t got a degree, I’m really intrigued about that, how does that make you feel and is it something you would like to have done or would like to do in the future? There’s a sense of regret but maybe I’m just reading… I don’t know.
L: I think… I don’t know about regret, it’s possibly it’s a bit… but more frustration really, I can’t see myself being able to do a degree. I did, a few years ago, around 2005, I went on an Access course in Arts after I’d had yet another mental health breakdown and in fact suicide attempt and that was with the view of could I go as a mature student and I couldn’t even keep up with doing three days a week there, because of my physical disabilities, and I found it quite stressful again on the relating, I felt very isolated and I don’t think that’s got anything to do with how I experience myself gender or sexuality wise, it’s just an Aspe thing, I think more than anything and I would find it very hard now to go and be, even if I could manage full time study, I would find it very hard to be amongst very young students. I have a lot of sensory… sensitivity both as a person with fibro, and that’s a symptom of Aspergers, and it would just been too loud, too noisy. I was up at the University of Sussex just the other day, being a human library book, which means that I was being loaned to people to read as a book, who was a transgender queer artist who happened to have Aspergers syndrome, and there was a party on because the students had handed in their dissertations and the noise level was just beyond my ken. [LAUGHS]
So, I couldn’t do that, but I’m not too frustrated because I have sort of, over a long time, recognised that, or had to recognise that I can only do small amounts, I found that I also got incredibly high when I do creative, so I have to balance that and I can do projects for too long, I could never be an ongoing performer because I get too spiky mood wise. So I have to live with a lot of… I don’t want to say “limitations” here but challenges and balance is a key, I’m limited with what I can offer to the Trans Alliance, for instance, and sometimes this makes me more self-conscious than frustrated or regretful. I have, I’d say I deserve the keys to some cities and at least a few honorary degrees for the life that I’ve lived, but they aren’t on the curriculum as yet, generally.
INT: Do you, do you feel that you are sort of a number of any particular sort of social economic class and is there… do you perceive there’s any sort of class issues surrounding being trans?
L: That’s an interesting question. Well, I’m very clear that I grew up to middle class parents, grandparents and when I was working was following what would have been middle class professions, I have done some residential and day care social work, I’ve been a computer programmer, I’ve been an adult education tutor of colour therapeutic awareness and I’ve done quite a lot of admin work for voluntary sector and charity organisations, so that’s a sort of broad spectrum of my paid work histories as well as volunteering for recycling organisations, Oxfam, etc.
I don’t feel I’ve got enough knowledge in the area to make a statement about… have an opinion really about the issues between the classes, society… there are class divides but they seem less… well, are different than they were in the sixties. The change of haves and haves not financially doesn’t necessarily follow class always any more, there’s just a wider disparity of haves and have-nots really, go across the board. Can’t particularly comment on that.
INT: And it seems to me that, if I’m correct, that you’re… it’s not just your trans status, but actually the intersectionality between your gender identity and various disabilities and mental health issues contribute together in terms of your sort of how that’s affected your financial security. Is that… because I mean I guess the broader question is how has your trans status affected your financial security, but I get the sense with you it’s actually not just the trans, it’s all the sum of the parts.
L: Yes, I’ve… there isn’t really… it hasn’t made a difference, in that I’ve been in and out of employment, and on sickness benefits for a very long time. I was unable to work full time after the age of 27, which was due to the onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is a major factor of having fibromyalgia, although at the time it was CFS, Chronic Fatigue or ME were very interchangeable phrases and people didn’t really understand what that meant, when they were arising in the late eighties. So, I’m used to being on a low income, if I’ve been able to do some part time work and I’m lucky that I do get benefits that sort of match a similar income, when I’m not able to work. So, the transness hasn’t really come into it.
INT: Okay. You’ve talked lots about creativity and the arts, but we haven’t really talked too much about the sort of detail of that. How do you express your creativity?
L: I think I’m really enjoying, particularly at the moment, doing mobile photography and it’s a sort of my own personal photo journalism, or photo diary. From the age of 14 I actually wrote into little pocket diaries about my life and I’ve stopped that and now I kind of photograph it and I’ve created one or two books from that, or I create what I call photo videos. For instance, my project over the last two years was collecting photographs inside disabled accessible toilets, but from the standpoint of being somebody who justifiably could have a Radar Key because of my fibromyalgia, but also as a transgender queer person, it was like the gender-neutral changing space in the charity shop. The other place within the fabric of society and the infrastructure that was gender-neutral and/or, you know, more often known as unisex. So, I started to photograph and I would… the doors, the taps, the floor, the toilet bowls, whatever, and I also started to photograph myself reflected in the mirror and after Trans Pride I created for myself a trans lanyard, a tranny-lany or a well hard trans lanyard I called it, that said trans person, so I was photographing myself wearing this, and I made a photo video out of that as a way of just light heartedly showing the public well this is a neutral space, what does it mean for somebody to have to go and look for somewhere that doesn’t decide whether they’re masculine or feminine. Obviously walking around in the streets, in the countryside, everywhere is gender-neutral in that respect, but if you go into shops or into hotels or in schools, or in leisure centres, the changing rooms are divided gender-wise, the toilets are, the rooms are, and then of course you’ve got hospitals, prisons etc., there’s always this fundamental division about male or female.
So I was kind of playing with that, what does it look like to have a gender-neutral space and trying to be humorous and light-hearted as a way to normalise and raise awareness. I had a lot of fun with that, but alongside that, as an Aspe person, I love architecture, I’m very fond of buildings, so Brighton is – and Hove – are fabulous for architecture, whole street that are similar.
I’ve done a lot of creative recycling because I’ve not ever had very much money, my artwork was based on what I could find, rather than going out and spending on paints or canvases, and in Devon I used to work with a lot of reclaimed plastic flotsam that had been tumbled into the sea. Now I have been collecting quite a lot of flotsam off the streets in Brighton and would fashion those into things like dead light bulb lampshade or fridge art magnets or strange mobiles, but quite often it’s just to make practical things like a piece of furniture, or a cabinet out of recycled video cassettes. I was really excited, I had a huge video collection, I was really excited to be able to donate them all to the Waste House that University of Brighton is making out of all kinds of rubbish, you know, insulation that’s video cassettes and toothbrushes and old – not razor blades – shavers, I can’t… electric shavers, who knows what’s gone in there.
I helped to make the FTM banner, that was really good fun, I enjoy doing graphics and for Mind Live my contribution there is really with their outreach through a website and doing a creative blog, photography and videos and, as I’ve said, leading some kind of creative recycling workshops.
So, that’s quite varied. I was involved in the Queer in Brighton book and oral history project and photography that started a couple of years back, and I contributed some creative writing, I was interviewed similar to here, and also joined in the Not Going Shopping photography, so I did that with my mobile phone.
So quite varied and as I’ve mentioned I have my own blog, which is Off the Trolley Productions, “Person is not a rude word” and “off the trolley” referring to the fact that I need to use a hopper shopping trolley to carry my various cushions and comfort accoutrements, but it’s also a kind of a reference to reclaiming the word “tranny” which is quite contentious in that it has been used as derogatory term for transvestites, so it’s very sensitive to transwomen, but I’m the trolley tranny and have a tranny trolley is part of me playing with language as well, a bit like dyke being reclaimed and queer and finding accessible ways to sort of educate and entertain people really.
INT: I’ve got a question I’m dying to ask and it’s about toilets actually. [LAUGHS] As someone who legitimately has a Radar Key, and also as someone who is trans, quite often trans people obliged, or feel safer using the accessible toilets, because it’s gender-neutral, rather than using gendered facilities and, on the other hand, having spoken to friends with disabilities, who aren’t trans, they get quite upset when non-disabled people use accessible toilets, and I’m intrigued as someone who is in both worlds, what is your viewpoint on trans people using the accessible toilet as a gender-neutral one? Is it something that is… yeah, what’s your view on that?
L: It’s a very interesting one, I feel… I do feel slightly self-conscious when I go into them, because I have, as I say, my kind of physical limitations are fairly invisible and if I’m going to a toilet which doesn’t involve going up and down stairs, you know, I may not be using my walking stick for instance, so there’s no outward sign. So, when I use these toilets I am still self-conscious that there might be somebody thinking “That person shouldn’t be going in there” and I’ve always got this kind of proprietary argument in my head. So, I’m not entirely kind of at peace in my mind about it. I think, I think perhaps there does need to be a wider acceptance that at early stages of transition, for a lot of people, this not passing in your… as you begin to change into the clothing that expresses your gender and in itself, in your mind it creates a form of disablement, that dysphoria and perhaps if people who had a disability, you know, maybe this is an issue that I will talk about at the Fed, certainly when I have brought up and told them about my photo video, nobody sort of said, “Oh, I don’t feel quite right about you having a Radar Key,” well, they wouldn’t say that, but about trans people going in, I haven’t heard that yet, but I can understand why it might arise. But I think it’s part of just there aren’t normally huge queues, you know, practically, I think it makes sense, I also would push this as an issue with the council in terms of their scrutiny, they create more gender-neutral toilets or have a sense of these toilets as being not just the realm of people with disabilities, I don’t even really like that in its sense, because it isolates people with disabilities, obviously they’re practical for people who are wheelchair users, but there’s a sense of a shift needs to generally happen about being more accommodating and breaking down the barriers that isolate people on kind of gender-wise and the toilets is such, again, the contentious issue about who’s safe with whom, you know, adults and children and it’s all a bit of a nonsense, in some respects, because that was based on gender, but that’s not… well, let’s not go down there, too big an issue.
INT: Brilliant! My other question I’m dying to ask you and maybe this is going to be the most difficult question for you answer, particularly because we’re sat in your room here, which is… there’s a lot going on. What’s your favourite colour?
L: Oh, my favourite colour. Well, I don’t really have one favourite colour but what was really interesting before I made my kind of like “Oh my gosh, I’m an andro!” realisation statements around the age of 40, was that I was very much collecting a wardrobe of shades of blue and shades of red, which sort of fitted into those… the kind of cliché stereotypes of gender-polarised colours, but in my mind, as having studied colour therapy I know that Mars energy, masculine energy is red and that mutates or goes down through mixing white into pink, which was associated with female, and Venus is the feminine planet and is associated with blue. So the idea that we have blue of a girl and pink for a boy… no, the other way round, yes, they should have been that way around all along, I mean it’s all a bit of a nonsense really. But interesting I still had done that kind of complementary balance of colours. Although obviously on the electro-magnetic spectrum, the rainbow spectrum red and green are, in fact, partners and blue is with orange. But, we don’t need to go into colour theory.
So, no I’ve got a… in my room, where you’re sat in and we’re doing this interview, we’ve got a lot of indigo and orange, which also are very important to me, orange is about creativity, indigo is a kind of soul expression colour. I’m always terribly upset when the rainbows, as printed or in flags, or definitely in LGBT flag are only six coloured, the indigo is always missing and I feel like “Where’s the soul? It’s not there!” So, there’s still a lot of red highlight but there’s also a lot of black, which is, you know, kind of all the colours and is the thing that highlights all other… it’s the void if you like from which it all arises. Well, we could spend ages on this question. But does that answer it good enough for now?
INT: That’s brilliant, thank you. I mean just to wrap up, because we’ve been talking for coming up to an hour now, I’ve got no more particular questions, but is there anything that you feel that we haven’t covered that you really wanted to talk about?
L: No, I did some notes yesterday, and I’ve pretty much spoken about everything, I think. Thank you very much for interviewing me, and I hope it transcribes well, because I’ve got so excited, I’ve been leaning into my knees, my mouth has been getting closer to the mic, as opposed to supporting my neck and sitting back. So volume change forward, and back.
INT: Fingers crossed we’re okay on that.