Last Sunday I was once again - it was my third consecutive annual attendance - at the Dorset Gardens Methodist Church in Brighton, who were hosting the Transgender Day of Remembrance Ceremony for the city. It was very well attended indeed. A sea of people arranged in concentric circles around a large candle. Present were two of the TV participants in My Transsexual Summer, Sarah and Fox, and the mother of Andrea Waddell, a trans girl who was murdered in Brighton in October 2009 - one of two such murders in the UK that dark month. I spoke with all three. Not present were representatives from any of the political parties, not even the Green Party, which is strong and influential in Brighton. But the police were there; and, would you credit it, the Rainbow Flag was flying from their building.
The format of the Ceremony was changed this year. Hitherto, a book had been passed from person to person containing details of all the known trans-related deaths around the world in the previous twelve months, including the name of the victims, where they died, and how they died. 2009/2010 was an especially bad year for hate crime, and it took a long time to complete this part of the Ceremony. And the cruelty of the deaths - which might involve torture, mutilation while alive, stabbing, strangling, even burning - was harrowing in the extreme. Some had found it impossible to read from the book when their turn came.
So this year, people were invited to take one or more cards from a table by the big candle, and stick them up on a large blank wall. We did this not one by one, but all together. Each card showed the name of a victim in 2010/2011 and their country, but thankfully not the mode of death; although if you wished to know, the details were available. This proved to be a better idea. It also allowed each man and woman there at the Ceremony to make their own personal act of remembrance, and not just briefly read something from a book, stumbling sometimes over the pronunciation of strange foreign names. This was more contemplative. Inevitably you paused at the Wall after sticking up a card. Just you and the Wall; and those cards with the names of those poor people on them. The cumulative effect as the Wall slowly filled up was impressive and moving. Meanwhile a choir sang.
There were an awful lot of cards, even though the death rate worldwide had fallen. Maybe the worst of the hate was done with, maybe not. But in some way I thought that the Ceremony was much more a celebration than a sorrowful tribute to the dead. It had been a more 'successful' year for trans people, in the sense that a few more than usual had survived. But the threat of sudden, casual death still hung over us all, even in Brighton. We were still in the hands of twisted people full of mockery and hate. And - despite being voters - still not taken seriously by most politicians.
Two days later, it was part three of My Transsexual Summer. This time it was all about achieving goals. That's more like it, I thought. Let the public see trannies being successful. Doing the things they do themselves, and getting praise and acknowledgement and recognition for it. The focus was on Lewis (desperate to raise cash for his breast-removal surgery) and Drew (equally desperate to get a proper job). Lewis set up a musical event in St Helens, drawing in an impressive number of friends and supporters - and also his dad, who hadn't fully accepted him but now clustered round, with a spot of bonding taking place. A double success then. Drew nervously survived a two-day trial at a town centre coffee shop, coping with the discerning ordinary townspeople of Wakefield. And she did very well, dropping the odd cake knife, but proving to be a champion waitress. She got the job, wow. Which meant not so much more money of her own, but the satisfaction of being an essential member of staff, making friends, and getting accepted by the town at large.
I have to say, I greatly admired them both. Singing on a stage in front of a crowd would be a frightening experience that I'd do much to avoid. Likewise, the pressure of a busy town centre coffee shop - taking orders correctly from customers, and serving them in a skilful and unflappable way - would be a challenge that I'd baulk at. What, you may cry! An ex Tax Inspector afraid of the public? But remember, I had the myth of the old sinister Inland Revenue behind me, the KGB in all but name, and people took the view that it was useless to resist, however annoyed and resentful they felt about being 'looked into', and however much they might try to delay the inevitable. And I was paid well to be persistent, and assertive for the truth. So it wasn't all that hard to acquire a confident approach, to be Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, and put up with the sneers and crossness that sometimes came one's way.
But survival on a stage, or in a waitress's uniform! Fear and terror! Nothing like the comforts of a safe office with colleagues on hand. No comparison. Couldn't do it.
At the beginning of the programme it was mentioned that 'two-thirds of trans people have suffered hate crimes'. Two thirds: as much as that? I didn't mind a startling statistic like this put in front of the general viewing public, but I hope it was accurate! Cut to Simon Powell giving the participants tips and lessons on self-defence. I'm pretty sure this is the same Simon who (back in November 2009) showed a keen group of us at the Clare Project in Brighton how to 'Walk Tall' and physically disable attackers if running like hell, or boldly facing up to threatening people, were not viable options. It was useful knowledge if sensible, confident personal behaviour, and good, unobtrusive presentation didn't keep you out of trouble. We were all inept Kung Fu Pandas at first, but we got much better very quickly. I'd therefore recommend a quick course in self-defence if you haven't already done one.
The final part of MTS is next week. I want to see Karen reconciled with her daughter.