From Steph, Vice Chair of the A:GENDER staff network.
I will be using a particular word in this piece, because it is the word that has been used on me for decades, and one that is steadily being reclaimed. That word is ‘Queer’.
It was the word shouted at me as I was beaten up at school, which was almost every day, and the word used in the streets when it continued as an after-curriculum club. It was the word used by the nice man who attacked me a couple of years ago in Birmingham. It was one of the words used by the four men who attacked me at work, as they slapped me, spat on me, verbally abused me and filmed the whole process. It is a word with a weight of hatred, but one which queer people are reclaiming for themselves.
That reclamation is one of the brighter aspects of hate—there has to be a silver lining, even if we make it ourselves.
What I learned from each such incident has changed over the years. When I was a child and then into my teens, as the hate combined with my dysphoria, the lesson I learned was that killing myself was an attractive option. That is sadly a view taken by all too many LGBT+ youth, and the only good thing that came out of it for me was that despite my efforts I was not actually very good at it. It took many more years before I realised that the attraction is a false one, but in the meantime, the fall-out on my family, as well as on medical staff, must have been dreadful. Drop a stone into a millpond, and the ripples spread, as John Donne observed: none of us is an island.
When I was attacked at work, the impact on my team was profound, as was their effect on me. They saw a friend, broken and shaking, and they put aside their other issues to pick me up and restore my balance, perhaps some of my sanity. When I was attacked in Birmingham, I walked into a group of friends from a:gender who did exactly the same. At the time, my focus was all on me, but once I was able to think more clearly, I could see there were deep wounds in their own souls. Ripples.
Together with my colleagues in Spectrum, we took the attack at work and turned it round. A short stage play at a conference, using trans actors, has resulted in one of them, a trans man called Ash, using the recording as part of his CV to gain a continuing role in a major soap, Emmerdale, where he plays a trans man, not only recognising his validity but celebrating it.
The Birmingham incident is now part of our toolkit of examples for a:gender awareness events, where the reaction from delegates is something that we so often miss as we recover from the slaps, the blows, the spitting, the shouts of “Queer!”: hatred affects all of us as fellow humans, emphasises that hatred remains a minority pursuit.
We are recovering that word, and we can use the hatred that drives it against itself, because once it is brought out into the light, it withers. That is what all of us can do, whether or not we are a part of the LGBT+ rainbow.
The parting words of that man in Birmingham were “What sort of **** queer are you?”
I am the sort with friends.