Paris Lees appeared in an earlier edition of Just Plain Sense about the signing of a Memorandum on trans people at Channel 4. Even then she was probably not all that well known outside of a small circle, having only moved to London the previous year. These days she is rapidly emerging as a rising star.
She has quickly established herself as an art reviewer and commentator on issues of diversity. Her writing has appeared in the Guardian and the Independent, in Attitude magazine, and in Pink News. She has regular columns in Gay Times and Diva. She has appeared on Radio One and BBC TV ... and acted as a consultant on several programmes about trans people. Most notably, she launched a unique magazine, META, earlier this year.
Paris recently won the title 'LGBT Role Model' at the National Diversity Awards. This interview was recorded with her the following morning whilst she was still getting used to the recognition.
I got to the National Diversity Awards, through The L Project. I love their single “It Will Get Better.” Saw your photo and for someone who’s transgendered, you are strikingly beautiful. Even though I’ve just learned about Diversity, I wish it would happen in North America. I’m straight, and my father, after my brother was born, rejected me emotionally and physical (no longer loving or hugging me.) Gave me major issues about men. I don’t really trust them. I say this because you mentioned your parent/s.
Why, I wonder do men who transition to women, look and sound better than women who transition to men?
I remember a man, male from the waist up, female from the waist down, who now has two children with his “wife,” or “husband.” I had a hard time looking at him when he was pregnant. I think he’s quite happy keeping his female genitalia. He appeared on American t.v.
I recall, years ago, sitting on a bench with a man, I think, dark skinned, blonde hair, seemingly dressed as a woman. I couldn’t figure this person out and felt quite uncomfortable. I think he might have been cross-dressing or not yet transitioned. And that was in a small, considerably conservative town in Ontario, Canada.
I appreciate your comments are most probably well intended and you’ve not set out to offend; however, I hope you won’t mind if I offer some advice.
Firstly, my eye was drawn first to your phrase, “…for someone who’s transgendered, you are strikingly beautiful”. I’m not sure if that was directed at me or at my interviewee (who is definitely beautiful), but do you know what a ‘backhanded’ compliment is? Consider some examples:
“He’s very clever … for an immigrant”
“She’s great … for a pensioner”
These kinds of expression are usually received as insults dressed up to look acceptable.
What your ‘compliment’ implies, in the first instance, is that trans people normally don’t look good … in fact you go on to express this in so many words. As a professional who has met literally thousands of trans people of both genders over the course of more than 20 years work in the community, I can tell you that the stereotype (like most stereotypes) is founded in ignorance. What’s more, it’s usually repeated by cis-gender people who have either not looked in the mirror or have an irony bypass.
Anyway, what your words suggest is that you are offering a compliment against a very low bar. If you think someone’s beautiful, fine. But it really is best to not then snatch the compliment back by reminding the recipient that the compliment is qualified.
Next, there is the issue of the “scare quotes” around the term “wife” or “husband”. What this implies is that you are disowning the terms yourself and treating them as reported speech. You’re describing the relationship as qualitatively different to marriages which don’t attract quotes. It’s easy really: how do that couple refer to their partners? If the trans man says “my wife” and if his wife says “my husband” then I’d recommend that that is what you and I should do too … otherwise we are denying them respect.
On the L project, by the way, there is an issue in the lyrics which I don’t think has been properly resolved. The song purports to support the idea that “It gets better” for all LGBT people … and the lyrics contain obvious examples of gay and lesbian people to underline that. However, the lyrics also refer to “those men in their skirts” and I’m genuinely unclear of the intent. Either the song is about gay culture, in which case the reference is presumably to the tradition of gay drag, or it’s about LGBT people, in which case it’s presumably intended to reduce all trans people to an image of male to female cross dressing. It’s certainly not affirmative to young transgender or transsexual people either way. When the band sang this at the National Diversity Awards I was sitting as a senior manager and a Lifetime Achievement nominee with my colleagues … and both they and I squirmed with embarrassment. They squirmed because they wouldn’t want me to think for a second that anyone thought the meme related to me. I squirmed, because of the doubt being raised in their presence. The lyrics made me profoundly uncomfortable, as a professional who knows better, and as a woman possibly being impugned.
Like I say, this feedback is meant in the kindest of ways, as I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to you. I do hope you’ll take that advice away and reflect though.
Kindest regards Christine Burns