Anti-trans haters couldn’t dim the joy of my first shirtless Pride
The sun on my chest in Oxford Street felt like a recognition of how hard I had fought to get where I was
This piece was written to be part of the Guardian’s Pride coverage. I agreed to write it before I knew about Freddy McConnell and Vic Parsons’ decision to pull their contributions and decline future work with the Guardian and Observer. I have chosen to publish with them before because I felt that it was important that their readers hear trans people’s voices in addition to the trans-exclusionary views they regularly publish. On this occasion, however, I felt that going ahead with publishing the piece in the Guardian would undermine Freddy and Vic’s brave and principled actions.
I’ve often joked with my friends that two major milestones in a queer person’s life are the first Pride you go to, and the first Pride you don’t.
By 2018, I had largely stopped attending London Pride (technically called ‘Pride in London’, to avoid confusion with the beer). The sensory overwhelm for an autistic person like me, combined with the sweeping corporatisation, made it increasingly unappealing. But that year was different.
I had had top surgery the previous December after years of waiting – although nowhere close to the wait people face for top surgery today. I went to Pride, face and torso lavishly splattered with glitter, with one sole intention: to march shirtless in the parade.
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My surgery had originally been scheduled for November, before being cancelled on the day due to bed shortages. We’d been on the train to the hospital when I got the call. I was lucky – the surgery was rescheduled and took place a few weeks later. My surgeon told me he knew trans people who had had their surgery cancelled three or four times.
That Saturday in July 2018 was a beautiful day, although I was determined to be shirtless even if it poured. It was an expression of my freedom, my love for my trans body. Even then, I was reminded of the relative degree of male privilege I had attained. My friend, a cis woman, was also shirtless, with tape crosses over her nipples. She was stopped and told she had to cover up or she would be removed from the parade. I passed by unquestioned.
When we set off, my shirt was unbuttoned but still on. It’s difficult to overcome a lifetime of conditioning that tells you that exposing your chest in public is at best offensive, and at worst a crime. But the cheering of the crowd emboldened me to take it off. Walking down the middle of Oxford Circus, with the warmth of the sun on my chest for the first time and cheering in my ears, felt like a recognition of how hard I had fought to get to where I was.
I was self-conscious about my surgical scars, then still relatively pink and new. I didn’t hate them, but they were a reminder that my chest would never look exactly like a cisgender man’s. But that day they served a purpose. Again and again I saw young people with trans flags in the crowd see my scars and light up with recognition. It was the first time I was happy to have scars. They served as a signal to other trans people that said: “I’m like you, and I made it, and you will too if you want to.” I wouldn’t erase them now if I could.
We were sitting on a kerb somewhere near Charing Cross station when the news came to us that ten or so ‘gender-critical’ women had hijacked the front of the parade, carrying placards with anti-trans slogans and handing out leaflets opposing the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. The organisers of the parade did nothing to stop them. My friend was nearly removed from the parade for marching shirtless, but they were allowed to lead it uncontested.
We were near the front of the parade, and yet I hadn’t noticed a thing.
Some of the young trans people who were so delighted to see me had probably seen those placards carried past not long before. It’s all too easy, as a trans person in the UK, to feel that transphobia pervades every aspect of our lives. It’s too easy to think of being trans as a source of perpetual torment.
That only makes it more important to hold on to the moments of joy that transphobia can’t touch. And in that moment of sunlit euphoria as I walked down Oxford Circus, I was beyond its reach.
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