Today's transgender visibility has not come out of the blue. It is not a modern fad but achieved through profound struggle. For gender diverse people have of course been found throughout history, but, throughout so much of Western 'civilisation', we have been forced underground. It is such a delight therefore to see the publication of a new book which tells the story of Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows. For it seeks to provide us with a comprehensive account of the landmark events which shaped the British transgender community over the last five decades, told through a series of essays by leading transgender people who have lived through this tumultuous time. It places our own struggles today in context, giving our individual lives a fuller, social, narrative. Crucially, it provides us with stories which allows us to appreciate and honour the extraordinary lives and efforts of those who have gone before us, upon whose giants' shoulders we stand. In doing so, it provides a more grounded encouragement and hope for the future...
I have to confess a very small personal interest, not only as a direct supporter myself of this particular Unbound publishing project, but also because two of the main contributors have helped shape my life, one (the journalist Jane Fae) with whom I shared in student politics, and the other (The Revd Dr Christian Beardsley) a wonderful pioneer transgender priest who continues to assist me in my own journey. As such, its is a reminder of how much all of us are bound together and liberated or confined by the actions of others. We are linked to every small, or great, step of the past, and, in our own lives, our own humble journeys contribute to those of others.
For Trans Britain provides a series of first-hand accounts of the journey from the shadows and all their shame, silence, secrecy, guilt, pain, disgrace and punishment. It includes the transgender founders of the very first support and activist groups in the UK, a one-time fashion model, an actress, a priest, parent, teacher, academic, lobbyist, journalist, together with long time allies from politics, the justice system, unions, and medicine. In doing so it tells the breathtaking story of courage and determination of so many who indeed risked so much, so that we who have followed on can live safely and with some modicum of pride and dignity. As someone who lived through three decades of this story in England, reading it often moved me to tears, both of joy and sadness. It is however but part of all our stories across the world. Perhaps Australians, and others, may share our own journeys in similar and different ways?
There is so much in Trans Britain that is life-giving, as well as source for grief. It comes at a moment of still painful birthing of genuine acceptance and change. On the one hand it is thus a timely thankyou to those who have born the heat of the day. On the other, it is also forward-looking. For as the dedication (to the Mermaids support group for families with transgender members) puts it:
This is a book largely about the lives of adult transgender people. But many (if not all) grown-up transgender people have a story to tell about their youth - usually involving the fear of expressing who they were and the negative and irreversible bodily changes that they have had to deal with as a result of going through the wrong puberty.
Our hope is for a future where another generation doesn't face that need to hide and suffer in silence, with all the lost opportunity that involves.
More about the Trans Britain project and its remarkable editor Christine Burns, can be found here.
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: