I believe the children are our future because they are the ones who validate me in the most gentle mundane way in public space.
The first time I used a women’s toilet I was at the top of the Eiffel Tower. A comment from a friend under the selfie I posted said “Took you long enough.”
I had told some close friends, people in rehab and therapists that I was trans over the course of the preceding year and a half. During this time, I had various incidents of men see me in the corridor of the gents and think they had got the wrong door. An exasperated male staff member ran after me going into the men’s changing rooms at the local pool.
My gender presentation had been becoming steadily more androgynous then violently feminine over the past ten years. In secondary school I was groped and beaten up at the same time. Concurrently popular for my charisma and bullied for my queerness. Boys would ask my sister “Why’s Kuchenga’s bum so big?” A rhetorical question which classified my bodaciousness as a gross anomaly as hormones confirmed their identities and wreaked havoc on mine. Since Year 3 onwards I was constantly being asked why I “behaved like a girl”. Children and adults alike saw my body and behaviour as discordant. In truth, when I noticed myself being called a boy in nursery a firm voice in my head said “NO, I’M NOT!” But to say I was a girl loudly and proudly seemed far too dangerous. So I pretended.
My father is Zimbabwean. My mother is Jamaican. Most of my family are Christian, many Jehovah’s Witnesses. The landscape for living in one’s truth was bleak. Reality was so binary. I prepared myself for homelessness after I was conditioned to expect relentless violence for my organic femininity in adolescence. Femininity always bubbled up from the deepest wells of my being. So it was, that I did not meet my first trans women until I met Emmanuelle and Jamie at my homeless hostel when I was ejected from the family home at seventeen. They enticed me and also scared me shitless. No one respected their pronouns and even the girls in our hostel that liked them saw them as aberrational jokes. I couldn’t imagine living a life where people gave you such little respect.
Transphobia puts plugs in your throat. You have no vocabulary for the visions of your true self that are both vivid and hazy. Repression curtain off parts of your mind, relegating the truth to the subconscious where it becomes poisonously monstrous. My body was encased in a shell and under the assignment of a gender that I just know wasn’t true. I did my best to just try and get by living as a cis gay guy and almost killed myself in the attempt. Beginning to transition at the age of twenty-eight, after twenty-five years of pretence, was a merciful act of self-love.
Trans people loving ourselves is a scary thought to many. Using modern technologies and, we have regained the identities and communities, colonialists and missionaries did everything they could to erase. Two spirit peoples in Native America, hijras in South Asia, the Muxe of Mexico. In these times where trans people have found pockets of safety in which to bloom where possible and merely survive where it is not I think of how glad Dr. Hirschfeld must be that the spectrum of transgender expression is being celebrated.
I have spent £15,000 thus far on surgeries to reverse the ravages of testosterone on my body. Oestrogen and anti-androgens just make me feel so right. It’s like for most of my life I was driving a vintage car listening to a radio station where the music was great but the reception was so bad it just gave you a headache. Now, this vintage car is purring like a beautiful black panther and my melinated curves are glistening in the sunlight. The more time passes, the more I am passing as cisgender. The sexual harassment in public is even more plentiful but the sneers and titters I had got so used to over the years are decreasing. I feel at my most normal when shopping at Evans. As a size 16, skinny jeans with an elasticated waist are a goddess send. To breezily pop into a changing room with no hassle is a blessing. I remember being turned away from female changing rooms in Topshop years ago like Travis Alabanza and skulking away in embarrassment. I don’t have their courage. As an ‘old school transsexual’ I conform and do everything I can to not be seen as visibly trans. Others are not able to. Others do not want to.
The privilege of passing as cisgender is not lost on me. As trans women we whip each other into conformity. Those who get ‘clocked’ as trans are seen as lazy, inattentive and burdensome. Letting the side down and keeping us from being accepted. We have grown up indoctrinated by cis conditioning that sees anyone that doesn’t belong to the gender binary as bizarre and worthy of their oppression. Non-binary and gender non-conforming people are seen as making a fuss and annoying in their insistence on gender neutral pronouns. Trans and cis people alike tell our siblings that the solution is to just ‘become more like us’.
Shoddy transphobic think pieces whether they be in The Times or The Sun are endangering our lives. The memes that ask “what would you do if your son came home like this?” are exhibits future generations will be shown when they ask why so many queer and trans kids are killed.
At my lowest moments, I wonder what the media’s end game is. How violent will this backlash become? Are they going to come for our hormones and health services? The gatekeeping of the medical establishments is arduous enough to deal with. Can my transness be legislated against? How many more siblings are we going to lose to their fear and hate? Which friend will I call to hide in their basement from rabid marching cisgender hordes bellowing “YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US!”
I am wary of anyone who asks us to “please think of the children”. It’s a dog whistle to the masses that we are getting too big for our boots. The connotation that we are dangerous to children and that the trans lobby won’t be happy until surgeons swish into state schools with sanitised scalpels is just too silly.
Thatcher’s government instituted Section 8 and promulgated the idea that the ‘gay mafia’ sought to recruit youngsters. Yet now we see a couple of decades later that the biggest danger of same sex marriage has been to make LGB people more happily boring.
The nation’s children are not in danger from trans people getting the love and support we need. Trans people are in danger of this nation. Virulent transphobia is the phenomenon that should scare us. The sexual assault, physical violence and ostracisation that destroys our lives deserve the headlines.
The baby on the bus that stopped crying when I made a funny face had no problem seeing me as a human being. It’s high time we followed that baby’s lead and created conditions in our society for trans peoples to not just survive but thrive.
KUCHENGA is a writer, an agitator an avid consumer of all culture high and low. She is a Black trans feminist whose work sparkles with vivacity and originality. A member of Black Lives Matter UK, the Bent Bars Collective and Sisters Uncut she lives in London and can often be found frollicking in the park with her dog Nene.