from Paris with love

1_2563964aI rage because children live fearful
for their lives, because our answer
is always more bombs, because we think
that dead children are collateral damage
and that their parents deserve the despair
of losing a son or daughter so precious.

I storm because my peers forget
that people are real and they bleed
and they feel, and they cry, and they
lose their will to live when babies
are torn apart by a force they can’t control
sent by the government of a country
that hates them, and they don’t understand
why hatred exists, what they have done
in their ordinary lives to deserve it.

I cry because it could so easily
be my little boy raising his arms to a camera
because he believes it is a gun
because it could so easily
be my little boy having his world
destroyed by people he’s never met
because it could so easily
be my little boy laying dead in the dust
of wartorn country full of fear.

what wasn’t said

Nobody ever said, of me,
“and those eyelashes – wasted on a boy!”
but they were.

One Christmas morning I awoke
excited for a bright red bicycle
my first, red for strength and fire;

but it was pink.

The little boy I was knew pink wasn’t for me
(though the man I became adores it)
and disappointment seared through me
interwoven with the guilt of the audacity
of feeling disappointment.

Of course, my parents hadn’t known
I desperately wanted a red bike.
They saw their daughter and thought
she was beautiful and pink suited her.

Nobody ever said, of me,
“What a bonny wee lad! So handsome, so strong!”
but I was.

When I was ten I was so desperate
to fit in with the other boys
that I joined the school football team.

but I hated football.

I tried with every fibre of my small being
to play, and to play well, like the others.
But sport of any kind was not my forte,
perhaps an omen of the broken body
my adult self was to find himself inhabiting.

Of course, I was never one of the boys
I was the tomboy. Worse. The wannabe-tomboy,
a little girl who cut her hair short
but couldn’t even kick a ball across a field.

Nobody ever said, of me,
“He’ll grow up to be a good man one day.”
But I did.

Seventeen years later I found the courage to stop
trying to be the best girl a guy can be
I discarded her, the itchy suit I’d sweated through.

but she follows me.

She is a weight ever-attached to my ankle
taunting me with well-meaning but false pronouns
and pricking me thousands of times a day
with every ‘love’ and ‘darling’ from a stranger
with every ‘I’m sorry! I thought you was a geezer!’

Of course, they aren’t to know, and
of course, it won’t always be like this, and
I need to grow a thicker skin, really.
The perceptions of others shouldn’t define me.

Nobody ever said, of me,
“Congratulations! You have a beautiful baby boy!”
but they did.

Quinn Norman 31/07/2015

A Letter of Apology

I’m sorry that I let you believe
the bullshit binary beliefs
of cis society on sex.
I’m sorry I wouldn’t let you
speak up for yourself.

I’m sorry that a midwife
slapped your arse and declared
you were a certain type of person
based on what she saw between your legs.

I’m sorry I let you let them
dress you up like a pretty doll.
Looking back, you were beautiful
and I am sad for them
that you never existed.

I’m sorry I never told anybody
that the reason all your teddy bears
were boys, was because you felt
closer to them, that way.

I’m sorry I didn’t speak out.
I’m sorry that the boy within you
was hidden for so long
that he thought he’d disappeared
for far too many years.

I’m sorry you were so surprised
by blood between your thighs
though they’d told you to expect it
you’d prayed it would never arise.

I’m sorry for every lip gloss
in your sizeable collection
gathering dust in landfill
and I’m sorry for painting you
into a person you didn’t recognise.

I’m sorry I let you go off the tracks
into the bed of anyone who’d have you
I’m sorry I put you in so many
dangerous situations. I didn’t know.

I’m sorry I made you live
a heteronormative life of domesticity
without letting you question
who you were, because other people
were always more important than you.

I’m sorry it took me so long.
By now I’ve realised that this apology
is not to some unknown ex-person
but to my own self.

I’m sorry that I ever tried
to pretend I was something so foreign
that I never understood, even as
I played the role that the world
had so cruelly pushed upon me.

I’m sorry it took me twenty-seven years
to man up. To admit I was wrong.
To tell the Universe that it was wrong…
or maybe, like me, it knew all along?

I’m not sorry to be where I am now.
I’m not sorry to be ‘in the wrong body’;
I’m not sorry to not fit expectations
and I’m not sorry that my body’s
considered a variation on the norm.

I’m not sorry for my smooth face or high voice
though I wish they were different
they are material wishes to aid the world
in seeing me as I see myself.

This apology’s not to an older self
it is to me. There is no pre-me and post-me
there is just me. The only thing that changes
is how I present and am perceived
and how I want the world to perceive me.

I won’t speak to my former self, because he
was never she, he was a little boy like any other.
It was me who pushed him down
and now it’s me who will revive him
and give him the life he deserves

and now it’s me who will revive myself
and give myself the life I deserve.

Quinn Norman, 15/06/2015

For cisgender people – on why pronouns are important.

Edit: For a guide to the terminology used in this post, plus some extra words you might come across while talking about transgender issues, please see this post on transgender terminology.

A transgender person is a person whose gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. This can mean someone who was AFAB (assigned female at birth) identifying as male, someone who was AMAB (assigned male at birth) identifying as female, an AMAB or AFAB person identifying as non-binary or genderqueer (terms which mean identifying outside of the male-female gender binary) or an intersex person (someone whose chromosomes are neither XX or XY) identifying as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

One of the most important things for a transgender person is for other people to respect our pronouns. For example, I was AFAB but I identify as male, and for me, people using ‘he/him/his’ pronouns for me and referring to me as male is as important as it is for people to use my correct name.

You might think that pronouns aren’t important. You might think ‘we are all special, gender isn’t important, I don’t see gender’ but that is because you are cisgender (not transgender) and you have never had your gender identity questioned. When you say you are male or female, people believe you without question. For a transgender person, it is often a constant battle to ‘convince’ people that we are the gender we say we are. Having people respect our pronouns is one part of that battle; to have people affirm with the language they use, that we are who we are.

When someone uses the wrong pronouns for a transgender person, it can be very, very upsetting. It can bring back memories and flashbacks of past abuse for that person. Often we have been emotionally abused by people who used the wrong pronouns for us deliberately to make that abuse hurt more. Often we have had the wrong pronouns hurled at us while being physically abused by people who hated us simply for our gender identity.

When you use incorrect pronouns for us, you are telling us that your assumption about our gender is more important than our own truth. You are telling us that it is more important for you to offend us and make us feel uncomfortable, upset, or even suicidal, in order to make yourself feel more comfortable.

When you misgender (use the wrong pronouns for) us, you are saying that our lived experience does not matter. You are saying that you know us better than we know ourselves, and you are saying that hurting us is more important than changing the tiny words you use to refer to us. It is not difficult for a cisgender person to use the correct pronouns for a transgender person. We all make mistakes, but neither is it difficult to own the mistake, apologise and move on.

Another important thing about using the right pronouns is the safety of the transgender person. When you use incorrect pronouns for us, you run the risk of ‘outing’ us (telling other people that we are not the gender we were assigned at birth). This can put us in danger of abuse, or even physical violence.

But most importantly, when you use the wrong pronouns for a transgender person, you are telling us that you are not our ally, you are not our friend, and you are not someone we can trust. You are telling us that your decision to make assumptions about our gender is more important than our dignity as human beings. You are telling us that your comfort is more important than the validation of our identities, and you are telling us that your convenience is more important than our emotional and physical safety.

I hope that this article has helped you to understand a little bit about why using the correct pronouns for a transgender person is more than important, it is essential for the safety and well-being of the person, and that you will go forward armed with a little more knowledge and compassion, and that you will do the right thing. Transgender people don’t deliberately upset you with the language we use to refer to you; please afford us the same respect.