Friday, 3 August 2012

Painful parallels

The conviction today of Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed for the murder in 2003 of their 17 year old daughter Shafilea, after a long period of relentless disapproval and pressure to obey them, must make many a trans person wince at the parallels with their own treatment. A series of parallels short of death, one hopes; although poor Shafilea did attempt suicide, which is by no means unknown among trans people, even if only a passing thought.

It certainly passed through my own mind once, when I felt particularly under attack. (Fear not: I have always believed in the tenet, 'where there's life there's hope', and in the principle of 'no surrender'. A stubborn and possibly perverse determination not to give in to anything or anyone would have kept me alive)  

Back to my theme. The convicted parents happen to be Muslim, but really that's just a red herring. They represent every father and mother of whatever background who have ever been prepared to put their own feelings and social standing before the happiness and wellbeing of their children.

It was my own fate to be subject lifelong to the controlling wishes of my parents. They exercised control when I was a child, when I was in my teens, when I was in my twenties, in my thirties, in my forties, and right on to the end. Mostly it was a benevolent control. And it was very supportive control, much to my financial advantage - if I complied. I usually complied. The habit was ingrained in me from the earliest times. So my parents determined my career. They made it known whom I could go out with. They cold-shouldered anyone in my life who they thought didn't count, or should be ignored. And finally they cold-shouldered me, or to be accurate they judged me when I came out, and seemed to suspend their love. Mum went to her death never treating me with warmth again.

After Mum died, Dad relaxed a bit, changed his attitude a little, and found that his weird child was still good company. I believe he would have moved towards a kind of acceptance, but he died before it was achieved.

But before he died, he attempted bribery: he would pay for us both to move to sunny, sandy North Devon, somewhere really nice. But I'd have to stop transitioning. I said no without any hesitation. Dad did then concede defeat, and merely asked if I would 'do nothing drastic' before he died. In order to have his love and regard back, I felt I could promise that. I did not have to keep the promise for very long after it was made.

Why couldn't Mum and Dad immediately forget what their friends might think, disregard the strangeness of my new self-knowledge, and simply pledge their support? Was I not their only remaining child? Why then alienate me, beg me to snap out of it, exact promises and undertakings, and make conditions, when a parent should be there in a heartbeat for their child, absolutely without reservation?

It was a shock to discover that parents can have feet of clay. I grew up somewhat in a very short time.

It was also a shock to discover how so many others in my life also failed to prove that they were human beings of quality. They may have sincerely thought they were right not to get involved, right to keep silent, right to be horrified, perfectly justified in condemning me. But from my viewpoint it all looked very shameful and unedifying. So much for professing to be a Christian; or at least believing in compassion and other such high values; and not giving way to knee-jerk prejudice; and never coming to judgement without first hearing all the facts. But nobody asked me for the facts. Of course not; I was deluded; no facts were necessary.

It was the hardest moment of my life, not because I suffered any special abuse, but because I realised as never before how people who seemed so admirable can fall so short. And that most people's first instinct is to think of the consequences for themselves. Not at all to reach out with a smile, and a good wish, and an offer of genuine help. Well, saints have always been in very short supply.

So we come back to poor Shafilea. Done to death for being 'too Western' and 'seeing boyfriends' and 'refusing an arranged marriage'. Basically for not doing what her parents expected of her. Not fitting into the mould. Not being dutiful. She made them feel ashamed. Just as I (and many people like me) have made our parents feel ashamed. Except that she suffered permanent alienation. They made sure.


  1. Yes and some even hide their selfishness in the guise of religious piety.

    You have cut right to the heart here Lucy. Well done, sadly.

  2. Unfortunately, to be perhaps not very 'politically correct', I don't think that Shafilea's parents being Muslims is a 'red herring' in that case.
    Having said that, I've liked nearly all Muslims I've met, and I realise that the majority of sincere, devout, intelligent Muslims are good, genuinely moral people - Not loony sadists in disguise.
    Re. changing gender you'll agree that it's not a decision to be taken lightly, and I've never been a father but if I was I'm sure I'd be supportive of a son or daughter choosing to take that step, if they were at least 18 and if I knew that they knew exactly what they were doing and had no doubts - Though of course initially it would take some getting used to.
    Sad that your parents weren't as understanding and open minded as they should have been, and your mother's coldness must have been deeply hurtful.


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