Saturday, 6 August 2011

Trans ambassador

I think that post-op trans women like me, who live active lives and appear to pass effortlessly, should consciously be ambassadors for everyone else. I'm convinced that the impression I make on 'ordinary' people matters hugely. Some of them will, during or after our encounter, put two and two together and realise that they have been speaking with a trans person. If so, I want them to be struck with the thoughts that (a) it was a pleasure; (b) it wasn't embarrassing, but easy and natural; and (c) they'd be happy to repeat the experience. Each encounter that goes well is another little victory on the way to general social acceptance for all trans persons. So, for me, every encounter is important, and I'd feel ashamed to let my standards slip. I behave well even when I'm obviously alone. I want it to become second nature.

Possibly all my cultural chat about art galleries and picture purchases and opera is taken by some as an elitist pretence. But all sorts of people enjoy these things, not just snobs, and I'm no different. And pursuing them is a great chance to play that ambassadorial role and change the views of people who might have some influence in the community. If I can impress a gallery- or theatre-going businessman (or his wife) that at least one trans person they have met is outgoing, engaging, well-adjusted, articulate, socially skilled, and apparently sensible, then perhaps, just perhaps, that conversation will translate into a job interview or sponsorship for a trans applicant who might otherwise be rejected out of hand. Or at the least help them be taken more seriously, whatever they are trying to do. To that end, props to create a good impression, such as nice clothes, well cared-for hair, a pleasant speaking voice, good posture, good manners, even a car like Fiona (a big Volvo will seem credible and reassuring to some minds) all play their part.

So I have found a role, not as a writer, or after-dinner speaker, or political activist, or formal educator, but as a low-key mole, unobtrusively digging away, doing my little best to make the general population see trans people in a positive light.
And if there are other moles doing the same, we can achieve much.

There is of course a potential problem. I pass well, but I'm still easily detectable to those who are 'trans aware', even if they say nothing to me. If the day ever comes when my appearance is perfect, then I can't play the ambassador any more - not unless I out myself. But that's not yet, maybe never, and in any case different territory.

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Lucy Melford