INT: Can you yell me who you are and your sort of role in the trans community first?
SS: I’m Stephanie, I’ve been a trans activist nearly 20 years now, so…
INT: You weren’t originally from Brighton?
SS: No, originally I was living over in Hastings and I was a trans activist over there, and then when The Clare Project started up I started coming along here and eventually, because nobody else wanted to do it, I took over being the Chair and I’ve been the Chair for nearly 8 years.
INT: When you started, it was fairly early days for trans activism, have things changed a great deal?
SS: Yes, definitely, there’s a lot more people actually speaking out. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of, an awful lot of disagreement within the trans community and lots of infighting, which I find quite difficult to deal with, and a lot of trans people are – I wouldn’t say a lot, but there are enough trans people whose idea of trans activism is what’s good for them, rather than what’s good for the community.
INT: So, does that mean that you feel they’ve got a rather selfish attitude towards it? In what way are they being selfish?
SS: Well, it’s… there’s a lot of people, say, posting on Facebook, and it’s like “Oh, Charing Cross, they haven’t seen me for six months and I’m getting very worried and they’re letting me down”. Whereas everybody who’s going through Charing Cross at the moment is suffering a similar problem, and it’s not just the one person who might think it’s just them, they need to be aware that, sadly, particularly under this government, and even the last Labour government, things aren’t great for trans people as far as surgical and psychological interventions go.
INT: Would you say there is such a thing as the ‘trans community’ in Brighton?
SS: There is a degree of trans community, and probably within that there’s several other communities, you’ve got the young people represented by Transformers, you’ve got the trans males represented by FTMB and everybody else, including those are represented by The Clare Project, where we’ve always tried not to represent just one aspect of the trans community, but be open to all aspects.
INT: You’ve been one of the founder members of setting up Trans Pride. Is that to give the trans people in Brighton a more optimistic sort of self, you know, advancing attitude towards?
SS: There are several reasons to… the main reason initially was that the only time trans people go together was for Trans Remembrance Day and – with the best will in the world – it’s not a happy day for people, so it’s not great that we only meet on a really sad occasion. So, we thought let’s meet on a really happy occasion and also because Pride, or LGBT Pride, or as a lot of people still want to call it, Gay Pride, has never really been truly representative of the trans community, it’s more a party to get drunk at for gay, white males – and trans people, including myself, have often felt unsafe at Pride. So we wanted something that was grass roots, that wasn’t about alcohol, that included campaigning and letting trans people have a voice and that we can work together, in Brighton initially, but as last year we had people travelling from all over the world to come to Brighton’s Trans Pride.
INT: You must have been very pleased about the way it went last year, as the first one?
SS: Yeah, I mean initially when we started out, we thought if we can get 50 people that would be great. To have a footfall of 1500 people come through the park on the Saturday, and over 100 at the cinema, and 50-odd people at the beach, it was truly amazing. It was a lot of hard work, but it was made worth it by the number of people that came down and the comments that were left, that this is how Pride should be, grass roots people campaigning, not about being a party. There’s a hell of a lot of work that needs doing to get the trans people to even be treated as equals in this country, and in other countries even further.
INT: What have you learnt from last year’s Trans Pride that will improve it for this year?
SS: To start working a lot earlier, because last year we, we had to have an event manual and that was finished like a week before and we were panicking like mad. I think we’ve got the basics there, the infrastructure’s already there. We know most of the people that are going to be on the stage, so at the moment we seem to be there, we’re ready and have more stock to sell and for the people to be able to wear their Trans Pride t-shirts and vests and things like that.
INT: Do you think there are a lot of trans people in Brighton who keep themselves to themselves and don’t join groups, and should we try and reach them more, or do you think that they’d want to have their own private lives and don’t want to join organisations?
SS: There’s a lot of other people, there have been a lot of people that come through The Clare Project and who have left and just gone to live their own lives and I don’t see anything wrong with people who don’t want to come to groups, because they’re just – they’re there if you need them. And always the principle behind The Clare Project as far as I’m concerned is the peer-to-peer support and to reduce the isolation and if somebody is quite happy living the life they’ve got, they don’t feel isolated, they don’t feel the need for that support, then that’s really great that they can get on with life.
INT: Do you think the aim of most trans people is, eventually, to not be… think of themselves as members of only the trans community but want to sort of join the wider world and they accept them as just, you know, they would anybody?
SS: Yeah, I mean that is… certainly that’s how, when I started out, transitioning 21 years ago, that’s how it was supposed to be. You were supposed to have your operations and your counselling and then just go away and just become a normal member of society.
INT: Is that realistic?
SS: It can be for some people, particularly people who are younger and people who have less problems in day-to-day going out and not having to worry about being beaten up or things like that.
INT: I get the impression that the younger people now are much more, I don’t know, integrated into society and more confident about the way they present themselves. What do you think? Is there a change?
SS: There’s definitely a change but I don’t necessarily think it’s a trans change, I think it’s more that, certainly in Brighton, there’s more emphasis on the queer community, because there’s a lot of LGBT people anyhow. But there’s a lot of people who don’t use those initials, but just identify as queer, outside of the so called normal society and I think there’s a lot of scope for people to meet outside of that and so it makes trans people’s lives a lot easier.
INT: Llet’s go back just a little bit to your own sort of realisation that you were trans and that you were going to have take a much less sort of measured path. There were no organisations like The Clare Project to help people then, were there?
SS: There was Gender Dysphoria Trust International, which was conveniently based in Eastbourne, but that was led by – all right it was led by a cis-female nurse, who allegedly, so we can’t be done for libel, used her position to find partners.
INT: Oh, wow!
SS: So, that didn’t last very long after I left, but when I transitioned there there was actually a secret NHS, local NHS document that said they would not refer anybody for any surgery or any counselling to do with being trans.
INT: Good heavens.
INT: Things have changed that way a great deal.
SS: Definitely, it’s much easier now and I think there’s many, many more of us who had put our head above the parapets and now being trans is not something that’s – you think you’re the only trans in the village type, now there’s a lot more of us and we talk to each other…
INT: Does that make you feel heartened? Are you, you know, are you more optimistic about the future than you were? I know you’ve talked about the, you know, the political infighting, but amongst the trans community, the people who are not, like the politicians, just, you know, everyday people, do you have more hope that their future is going to be better?
SS: It already is, I mean it’s so much easier, or excluding the problems with Charing Cross, and gender identity pathway, it’s so much easier now for trans people, with things like when articles are published in the papers, people will turn up at mass demonstrations against certain writers and newspapers and notice will be taken and I think one of the greatest examples of the power we have is the fact that the council did the trans equality scrutiny last year, and are still working on it and that was just something I never foresaw. It was just a casual remark I made at one of the trans memorial days where there weren’t any representatives from any of the local political parties and the Green Party wanted to have a word with us about it, and they suggested we have the scrutiny and if everything comes to fruition it can make life in Brighton a hell of a lot easier for trans people.
INT: As far as The Clare Project’s concerned, you’ve seen quite a lot of changes in that, it’s moved to different venues…
SS: Yeah, I mean initially when we started out it was more, it was very much more just the social side, but there wasn’t that peer-to-peer support and that’s come by the drop-in, I still think we’re the only trans organisation that does a weekly drop-in in this country, if not potentially in the whole world. And you think the number of people that have come through from being very scared of admitting their gender identity problems, to people who will happily go away and just be themselves, campaign for the rights of trans people and it’s part of what keeps me going, is the fact I can see people coming in very, very confused, and then if they go out, then most of the time they’re feeling really, really happy with themselves and a meaningful part of society.
INT: One of the toughest things for any trans person to do is to talk to their family and their old friends who knew them for a very long time, as you know, in their former selves, as they appeared to be rather than as they really were. Do you think that that is improving with… or do trans people still have enormous problems with friends and family?
SS: I think there’s still a lot of problems, I don’t think it’s as bad, certainly it’s not as bad as when I talked to my mum and told her, or rather in the midst of an argument I told her, which probably isn’t the best way of doing it!
INT: How did she take it?
SS: Not very well, but I think that’s possibly because she blamed herself, because all the way through the pregnancy she was convinced I was female and had a name, and clothes, and such like. So, when I wasn’t…
INT: If you had to give advice to people about approaching the, you know, relatives and friends, what would it be?
SS: To constantly stress how much you love them, how much what you’re doing isn’t as a result of anything they’ve done, and that it makes you a happier person, but doesn’t necessarily change you, what’s gone on before. The way you are, you’re happier, you’re probably less depressed and you’re a much better person, more capable of expressing emotions, particularly love, and I think that, you need to constantly stress that you’re not rejecting your family, and all the love they’ve given you before, you still appreciate and, because often they feel that you’re rejecting the family, because you’ve rejected the way they brought you up and things like that and I think to try and avoid any blame from any sides is always good and the need to say that you love them is something that a lot people, especially trans people, don’t actually say when they’re being brought up. So, that’s how I got through to my mum eventually.
INT: Do you think sometimes the reaction of other people surprises you, that you don’t always know who’s going to accept it easily and who isn’t?
SS: Yeah, well, the sister I was closest to, was the one I thought would be most accepting, and it turned out she was the least accepting and when I transitioned, one of the neighbours was quite an old woman and I thought she’s not going to accept me, she’s going to kick up a stink and she basically, at one point, she talked to me and said “I’m really annoyed with you, the fact that you didn’t feel that you could trust me and tell me and I’m perfectly okay,” and every neighbour within there was really okay. It was just I was so scared of…
INT: Do you think that’s what happens sometimes, that we get scared in anticipation, and the reality of things, especially with people we’ve known, is not quite as bleak as we fear?
SS: Yeah, I think the fear of rejection is a huge thing in any trans person transitioning and it’s what holds a lot of people back, because a lot of people don’t feel able to transition until maybe they’re really late on in life or… because they’re scared that they’ll lose their family and they’ll lose their friends, they’ll lose their job, all sorts of things.
INT: Would your advice be to be brave and to do what you feel is right, or do you think some people can’t do that, because they… well, partly their fear is that they will not be able to cope with a broken relationship that may come out of that?
SS: Yeah, I think one of the things you need to do is really sit down and work out what you want. If there’s any slightest doubt of the path you should take then don’t – I mean taking the trans gender path, then don’t take it until you’re absolutely certain you have no doubts. Right at the very beginning it’s possible to go back, but once you’ve started hormones it’s quite difficult to go back and once you’ve had the operation it’s practically impossible to go back. But one of the things I said to my surgeon the day before the op, was if I have the slightest doubt then I’ll back away and won’t go ahead, and he saw me the day after the op and said “That’s one of the most profound things I’ve heard people say”, they need to constantly evaluate where they are and with a lot of people it comes to a time where living their life they’re living, before transition, is so hard that the only option is to transition or harm yourself or commit suicide. But I would always, always prefer people to talk to groups like The Clare Project and get an awareness of what exactly the steps they’re taking, obviously different from person to person.
INT: Trans people who are married and have children, that can present particular problems because you don’t want to hurt your family, what do you think that the right course of action is for them?
SS: Honesty is the best course. There’s some excellent publications out there, about how to explain it to your family, to your partner or to your kids. Read up, do a lot of research, don’t do, what some people do and just suddenly appear dressed as how you want to be, don’t shock them, talk to them, get family therapy if it helps. But again, stress the love you have for the person.
INT: You’ve now sort of veteran of the trans community, if you could do things all over again, knowing what you know now, would you change anything?
SS: I would certainly change how I came out or how I got found out by things, but in the end everything that’s gone before, in my life, makes me the person I am now. So good or bad, if I was to change anything, it would be how I am now, although my life isn’t perfect by any means I’m still reasonably happy where I am. I live as myself, I’m not having to tell lies to make people like me, which is not to say I don’t lie, but generally that’s to help protect other people. But I feel that I’m in a position where I can help other people and do something really useful with my life.
INT: Steph Scott, thank you very much.
SS: Thank you.