You would think a bookshop such as is Waterstones is an institution that encourages the attainment of knowledge and you would be right to think so. However what would you make of the same institution used by some of its workforce as a platform for their prejudicial wiles? Do they (transphobic staff) act this way on behalf of a bookshop’s agenda of pandering to its own particular prejudices or is this just an extension of whom such individual members of staff are? More than likely so, if I venture an answer based on personal experience.
I must say earlier on in this article that Waterstones transphobic members of staff (and by this I do not mean all staff) are not alone in this. About four years ago I was in an NHS hospital undergoing the surgical part of my transition when I noticed that staff seemed to lose themselves in this sort of subtle abuse. Were they doing so on behalf of the NHS? Probably not but they hugged the elusive limelight. Could their motives simply be to hurt or were they simply acting on the need to be loved? Nevertheless there was no excuse unless they were saying that as employees of whatever organisation they held the mandate on who and who not they chose to serve.
It was basically understood that as long as they bonded together as a “team” nothing would come of any such complaints made against them under the assumption that a single individual, a loner, a minority of one could not harm them. For the first day or so, I was just given cursory attention and then left to dwindle off into the usual obscurity that they assigned me. I became a of none person on the ward. To get anything done I literally had to raise my voice a notch or two. Even then I was lucky if anyone responded.
Obviously, I had shaved my head the day before. The memory of having a lock of my hair pulled out of my scalp was still very fresh at the time. I wasn’t taking any chances. I was wholly ignored through out my stay. I felt at that at this rate it was a wonder I did not have any complications with the sort of care I got. When it came to undoing the dressing I knew I was in for a hard time. The senior nurse picked to attend to me frowned every time she approached me. She would sooner attend to someone else than give me a second of her time.
Eventually when she came round to summoning the courage to do her job, as she approached, I braced myself for what was to come. The senior nurse had a junior to watch the procedure. I looked at her and she, at least smiled but the senior nurse wasn’t playing. Suddenly she tugged at the dressing and a cry escaped from deep inside me. When it was all over I heard an aside that went as follows: “why were you so cruel to that patient?” the junior asked her senior even before they were out of my hearing. All she had to offer was a deliberate and cutting, “I hope it doesn’t work!” was her response. Strangely, this is the first time I have ever openly mentioned the said incident.
A day before I left one, of the registered nurses returned from her holiday and instantly got on the bandwagon. When I said, “hello!” anyone around us that glimpsed the expression on her face would have suspected that I’d said something abusive; she looked so morose.
An American nurse had to defend herself when she heard a rumour that she was friendly with me. All I could do was shake my head in disbelief. Even the team seemed to be held together by being loyal to the prejudicial ethos that prevailed. When a black nurse pushed his luck I simply asked, “how would you feel maltreated in the way I was being treated as a patient if you were to face the same treatment as a black person at the hands of a racist?” I knew of him before I spoke to him. He laughed louder than anyone in the entire hospital and thought that meant he was popular and that he could act with impunity too.
At times, I thought I was at a carnival or something but I wasn’t. I would have welcomed the morphine throughout my stay but it wasn’t to be, the stuff added nausea to the convalescing process which had its own downs: carrying the catheter everywhere you went, dry blood and an old dressing that felt crusty after a while of neglect not to mention the idea of when to clean or not.
But patients are not alone in facing such abuse as a chat with a friend attested. The idea that a lesbian who happened to attend the women’s forum, “Gingerbeer,” would not allow an mtf transsexual doctor to examine her was such an issue. ‘Would she have acted differently if the said doctor were ftm? My friend’s response was swift despite my mention of the widespread acceptance ftms by a majority of lesbians she rejected the idea. ‘That’s where I would draw the line,’ she said. ‘Personally an ftm, in my view, is a man so I’d object to being examined by him if that’s what she was inferring.’ I saw her point but reserved my judgment. ‘The point was that the woman that saw an mtf as a “man” was being transphobic. Her acceptance of an ftm is a similar case to a racist person saying, ‘how dare call me a racist? I’ve got black friends, you know!’ That makes no difference… Prejudice is prejudice. My mission” she continued, “is to expose that sort of hypocrisy.”
Strange things happen among human beings when the chips are down. We live by sheer animal instinct in which a narrow world view dictates the standard. The problem is that criminals are made of otherwise decent people by a mixture of conditioned prejudices and rampant complicity. All it takes is a frivolous word or two said at the wrong time and they end up accomplices to a hate crime or worst; a death, just because of a fear of the unknown.
What makes such abuse deeply painful is the fact that sometimes even transwomen get involved. To be “out” as a lesbian or translesbian; take your pick at times is viewed as an affront but that’s another story. How would any of you as African lesbians feel if exposed to such abuse purely because of our sexuality? Because of our gender identity some people feel that it is alright to openly pour aspersions on transgender people especially translesbians in this case with impunity so much so one gets the distinct impression that we were viewed as being less than human —if you ask me, I have to admit that I increasingly know how the Jews must have felt in Nazi Germany.
Are the people that take these stands against us saying because they do not understand us it is alright to adopt exclusionary ideologies in their approach to us. Which brings the statement, “let it not be said that you did not know what you were doing when you are caught red handed,” Nazism was allowed because people colluded silently when they knew what was going on. However, I hope it wouldn’t come to that before organisations like Waterstone’s and the NHS nipped how transpeople generally and translesbians in particular in the bud.
Mia Nikasimo © October, 2008.