On being a trans woman in Scotland in the 2020s (2022 and counting)
In the onslaught of negative visibility that is now par for the course for the modern trans woman in Scotland, I watch floating before me in my Twitter stream, the The Times' latest attack pieces on the highly respected Mridul Wadhwa (19 May 2021). I've met Mridul once and she was lovely, a figure of poise and quiet, thoughtful dignity.
I have two short stories that punctuate this fugue. They represent the light and shade of what Scotland is on the way to becoming.
I taught English in an Edinburgh summer school back in 2017, for students from Taiwan to Argentina, and from Spain to Saudi Arabia. They saw before them, teaching English, a transgender woman. The impression I received is that several thought, 'Wow, so this is Scotland, where anybody can be the best version of themselves.' It was uplifting to see this kind of reaction.
That's the end of the first story.
It's worth meditating, though, on how it's no small thing for all these students from abroad, many being teenagers or post-adolescent, to see a trans woman teaching their class (and hopefully, with considerable professionalism and expertise). Conversely, when bigots try to de-legitimize minorities, it usually starts with the professed need to protect children. Gay people and now trans people will know that it often begins with demanding that the minorities be banned from sharing the same space as children.
This brings me to a second true story. In 1980, in my home county of Flintshire in north east Wales, the county council successfully banned gay people from teaching in schools. Words like 'predator,' 'paedophile,' and 'grooming' abounded at this time. What's particularly uncomfortable for me is that my father, as a Plaid Cymru county councillor with a Flintshire constituency, would have been part of the decision-making process, and I have no idea how he voted. Perhaps it's better not to know.
I do know that the 1980s and 90s (and no doubt in the decades before) was a bad time to be queer in Wales. In his book A Little Gay History of Wales, Daryl Leeworthy says, "Time and again, the social and cultural atmosphere in many parts of Wales seemed inimical to living lives differently from the norm, and the migrant's trail took away those who felt oppressed" (2019: xx). Of that social and cultural atmosphere, I agree, from what I can remember. I was five years old in 1980 and grew up in a county and a country that seemed to hate and was disgusted by LGBT+ identities, to the degree of legislating against them from participating fully in society. By my mid twenties, and in keeping with the migrant's trail mentioned by Leeworthy, I too left Wales, and drifted for many years, unable to lay down roots, unable to be myself, until finally returning to a sister country, Scotland, with the intention of coming out and starting all over.
So now here we are in 2021 in Scotland. I see the way trans people are being smeared online by trans-exclusionists like Graham Linehan, with a recurrence of that holy trinity of the worst things you can say to dehumanize a minority: predator, paedophile, grooming. It was once used to ostracize gay people. It has been used to smear Muslim men. Suddenly, in the last few years via Twitter and social media, it's being used to smear the trans community, a community with no record of harm any worse than any other demographic. The fear and the hate, of itself, I can live with, but there's more to bigotry than hate. As Natalie Wynn says in her ContraPoints channel, "Bigotry can be hateful, yes, but specifically, bigotry is hate that poses a political threat to the target group" (26 January, 2021: 15.40). So bigotry is also about power, and there's no one in the national media's commentariat or in politics who is trans, to speak up for trans people. We're a tiny minority relying on allies in the face of the hostility in the media, and it's distressing.
So this is where Scotland stands, and before it two directions. It can become that country in which visitors say "Wow, so this is Scotland, where anybody can be the best version of themselves." A country that people might want to go to, looking for sanctuary.
Or it can become the kind of place where people belonging to vulnerable minorities can't wait to leave at the first opportunity, on the migrant's trail. The question is, what kind of country do the people of Scotland want Scotland to be?