In the wake of JK Rowling taking up our cause I wanted to share a rough list of things I worry about as a lesbian:
- Being misgendered
- Being told to wear a dress or feminine clothing and being shamed for not
- Being told to get back in the closet, in one way or another
- Lacking a sense of history related to my identity
- Sustaining a sports injury
What do you know? Not one of these is “the expansion of trans, non-binary, or genderqueer rights.”
To show you what I’m scared of, I’ll tell you a story about my final year at university. Two weeks or so before the deadline for my undergraduate thesis- a real banger on the history of LGBT+ campaigning and local authority activism in Islington- my bag was stolen from under a pub table. This included my laptop, hard drive and passport. All my work was gone. Thanks to FindMyIPhone, I could see exactly where the laptop was, but police priorities did not include the rescuing of undergraduate theses in History and Politics.
In a bid to save my research, I implored the president of the Boxing Society, and a Sandhurst recruit- bastions of both heterosexuality and masculinity- to join my cause. They graciously went with me to the location of the laptop and we knocked on various doors asking for the hard drive. The residents were kind, except one door that didn’t answer.
Hearing nothing from the police, who had very few leads after reviewing the CCTV, I frantically reconstructed my research from the London archives and began writing. How I did 3 months of work in the three weeks, I will never know, but it left me stronger in the end. A week or so after the deadline, I got a call from the police to follow up:
“We’ve found your laptop, passport and hard drive in the course of pursuing another case. The person responsible was being investigated in connection with a series of much more serious assaults. In order to understand if you fit the profile of the victims, I need to ask you a strange question. What do you look like?”
I described myself, ended the call and thought nothing of it. Whist ruing the unfortunate timing of everything, I was extremely glad he had been caught. Indeed, not being the victim of a much more serious offence is one of the few reasons for rejoicing at the mere loss of a thesis.
Fast forward to my second year of teacher training and I met a trans colleague joining the programme. I won’t tell their story because it isn’t mine to tell, but this person had been attacked by the man who stole my laptop and passport. This was the first time I had understood that police question and in the course of hearing this story, I learnt the police were investigating a series of violent transphobic and homophobic assaults, with the aim of ‘turning’ the victims. I then remembered my girlfriend had been sat at that pub table with me. At the time, she presented in a more butch fashion than I. Turns out, I was not the intended victim and, unwittingly, my description to the police had been unhelpful.
When JK Rowling thoughtlessly shares a post from a “terrified lesbian” threatened by trans identities, she would do well to remember that what scares me, in reality, is what scares my trans and non-binary friends. In this case, quite strikingly, we were the victim of the same forces- hatred, shaming, violence. Except that I, the lesbian, managed to avoid that last one. Most of the data suggests that outcome was a statistical likelihood.
I have many thoughts on lesbian culture, our representation in the media, and support for young teenagers who struggle with their identity. However, my thought today is: we all have different stories but must fight the same fight, side by side. We must build each other up not tear each other down. And nobody- especially not JK Rowling- ‘speaks for lesbians.’
Famously, we can speak for ourselves.