As The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued a report suggesting that Scotland – despite great improvements – needs to do more to make us a fairer society, a young transwoman living in the north of the country is preparing to move to Brighton on England’s sun drenched south coast, and she has shared her experience of her home town.
“Living in Peterhead can be difficult at times”, she told The Scotsman. “I feel that sometimes the people accept me the way I am and other times they don’t accept me at all . . . Verbal abuse is quite common and in the past I was physically abused which was scary . . . I was attacked from behind and knocked on the back of the head.”
I couldn’t advise Brooke Olsen to stay were she is. I’d love to tell her that it will get better in time, that her local community will find the courage to care. I can’t do that. Being brave in the face of prejudice can be strengthening; it can also grind down your resolve, destroy your peace of mind, and result in crippling anxiety. Our experiences of prejudice are as individual as we are ourselves. I have endured incidents that might make your eyes water.
However, Brighton is not the promised land. There is of course no promised land, but at least in Brighton Brooke will have greater anonymity. She will not be “that guy, ye ken, the queer one” who is known to everyone.
Another recent report, by ILGA-Europe, has suggested that Scotland tops the league as the European nation which affords lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people the greatest legal protection. I’m sure it’s true, but that doesn’t make our streets safe for the LGBTI community.
Being trans, and being out and proud isn’t easy. There is no hiding place, you will never be safe in the way that our fellow citizens can be safe on the streets, at work, or in the corner cafe [triple shot for me, one sugar per shot]. We seem to challenge the most fundamental assumptions about sex and gender and identity. These assumptions are false, but they are deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of most of our fellows.
When I re-emerged from the closet several years ago, it was suggested by a physician at my gender clinic in Glasgow that I might be better moving to Scotland’s second city. I suppose he wanted to suggest that Edinburgh was too stuffy, or that Glaswegians are friendlier, or less fuzzy about having weird neighbours. I’ve met some problems in Glasgow too.
I stayed where I was. I moved from posh Cramond to Edinburgh’s seaport. Leith suited me. It is like a city within a city. Council houses jostle the habitat of the yuppy. We have Michelin starred restaurants and traditional fish and chip shops. I get stared at sometimes. I am open to propositions if I wait around bus stops at night. I once had to tell a young man where he could shove his opinions. [It’s somewhere the sun doesn’t shine.] For my own sake I accept this as part and parcel of my need to be free. It is the price I must pay for my rebellion. I’m older than Brooke. I have a lifetime of experience. I have a thicker skin than most.
It isn’t always easy, and I am not always sanguine about the strange anger I arouse in the few people who feel they must say something. Even the beggars on the streets of Edinburgh are free to call “nutter” as I pass. The irony of this seems to escape them.
Editorial note: While hate crime continues to be a problem, and while nowhere is totally safe, transphobia is not inevitable. There are activists across the country fighting hate crime and working to raise awareness of the difficulties trans people face. We also have some of the most comprehensive protection legislation in Europe in the Hate Crime Bill (Offences Aggravated by Prejudice Act Scotland) 2008.
Transphobia might, sadly, be a common experience for many – but it should never be acceptable.
Transphobia and other forms of discrimination can and will be beaten.
If you are the victim of transphobia, please report it. Dial 101 or, in an emergency, 999. Alternatively you can report it online. Police Scotland take transphobia all all other hate crime seriously.
There are also a number of transgender support groups – some of which are listed here. If you do experience transphobic abuse, there’s no need to suffer alone – or silently.