Sunday, 30 November 2014

I'm Better Now . . .

by Dodo Charles

Transsexual- a person who emotionally and psychologically feels that they belong to the opposite sex.

Ola Satchell, speaking to
PGS pupils and staff 
On Friday, PGS was graced with the arrival of Ola Satchell, who came to give a talk to PGS Pride on her journey to becoming a woman. The talk was both sickening and hilarious, as Ola, now doing some stand-up comedy, recounted her experiences with the general public and their death threats. A Yr 12 IB philosophy class was also lucky enough to be able to talk to her in a lesson, discussing gender identity, the costs of treatment and the flawed health system, and issues with jobs for trans people.

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Ola before the talk she gave, and for such a heavy topic, she managed to capture a humorous tone whilst simultaneously showing the gravity of the subject matter.

Dodo Charles: What age was it that you first realised that you were uncomfortable with your body? How did you feel about it?
Ola Satchell: Three. Its difficult to say what I felt, because when I was three was so long ago: there was no internet, homosexuality was still illegal, JFK was still alive, and England hadn’t won the World Cup. I came from a naval family, and the whole circumstances were so radically different to what they are today, I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t say anything to my parents. I was wondering how to express this, because there were no role models or anything. As far as I knew, and as far as I knew up until the age of 13-15, I had no idea that there was anyone else like me. I just thought there was something seriously wrong with me. I just asked: Why me? This isn’t normal. I just had to learn to live with it.

DC: You mentioned in your personal history that you were bullied quite a lot at school. If you could, would you go back and change anything about your school life or life?
OS: What would I have done? The closest thing I have to any kind of regret I suppose was not doing this sooner. The irony of it all was that before (Charing Cross) I was shy, I was indecisive, and very self-destructive. I would have come out sooner, because, once I’m honest with myself, everything’s easy, no matter how much life itself becomes difficult. Although the first twenty months of my transitioning were difficult, I wouldn’t change it. I just think that I could have been like this sooner, and that is what I regret.

DC: How do you deal with the hatred and abuse that is still thrown at you on a constant basis?
OS: It depends on the circumstances on which it occurs. Things on the Gosport ferry I didn’t do anything about other than make a mental note of it to use in my training. I tend to make light of a lot of things, because people tend to be much more uncertain of how to deal with it, if someone makes a joke about it. So, for example, I don’t know what it is about the frozen veg isle in Sainsburys, but its on more than one occasion that I’ve been accosted there by people wanting to know more about my genitals, or someone coming up to me and asking if I’m a man. You can either be fairly blunt and tell them that it's none of there business, but the trouble is you run the risk of assigning people into even more degrees of unpleasantness. It doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t worry me, and so my concern is that we both come out of this situation without having gotten any further. I feel sorry for them, because one, those shouting abuse have probably given themselves laryngitis and he’s got nothing out of it at all.

DC: How do you think we should deal with people my age and younger, searching on the internet transgender or transsexual, and finding articles that suggest it is a bad thing - you mention Dr. Paul McHugh’s article? Should we be making it so that organisations similar to Stonewall, but for trans people come at the top of the search engine?
OS: Well Stonewall’s quite interesting because traditionally its always been LGB, but now they have a new Chief Executor, and I’m working quite closely with them on training days. The problem is that when you type transsexual into the internet you get 27 million responses in under 0.37 seconds, and you get all sorts of responses, some arguing that I’m a sin. But McHugh’s article was very disingenuous in the fact that he didn’t reveal some facts about himself that he should have done, such as the fact that he is tied up with the Catholic Church. The other problem is that some of the stuff is misleading about trans people committing suicide. Trans people commit suicide because of the way they are treated, not because they are trans. The first thing Charing Cross said to me when I went there was: How are you going to cope with losing your life, losing your family, losing your friends and losing your job? Which kind of makes you think that this doesn’t bode too well. The problem is that the people who wield the power are the people who deny I even exist.

DC: Do you think that society’s attitude towards Trans people is changing, and is becoming more optimistic?
OS: Yes. Yes, it’s changing in a positive way, but its still kind of transitioning. At a Christmas do recently, unsurprisingly I was the only sort of trans person there, and it was fine, and everyone was really kind of pleasant, but you got to the end of the evening, and everyone is saying goodnight, and all the women were getting kissed goodnight, and they shook my hand. You couldn’t have been more obvious! It was that little thing, I don’t think about it any more, and that was really jarring for me, because they were doing everything on their terms, not mine.

DC: What is it that we can do to help society become more accepting?
OS: It's back to education really. Most people tend to try and make (changing viewpoints) into a crusade, which is humourless and single-minded, which I can’t stand, and I can’t stand people who are humourless, especially people like bank managers (she later recounts a story about her bank manager not laughing at jokes about her changing which hand she writes with.) That’s not going to make anyone convert or listen to you, this in-your-face approach of people screaming at you.  The way to make it work is to show people positive images and have people like me go out and talk to people about it, showing that we are okay, we’re not going to suddenly eat children or commit small acts of horror.

As a society, we need to become more aware of trans people, and more accepting. PGS Pride runs fortnightly on a Friday, speak to Mrs. Morgan if you want to find out more- there is cake, and fascinating people like Ola, who give up their free time to come and talk and educate us.

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