Jess Bradley and Francis Myerscough write about trans time, transition, and demands, as part of Action for Trans Health’s series on trans mental health and activism.
Time works differently for trans people.
And its not because we are always late to things. (Although this might be a factor).
Cis people might not notice it, but we live in a different time zone. To them, our words, behaviours, our actions all happen in the present tense. To us, though, cis people sound… glitchy. Like hearing a CD skip ever so slightly or catching the delay between audio and video on an old laptop.
Trans people are time-travellers. (This explains why we never look, nor act, our age).
Everytime I cross the road I expect to be run over. I’ve never been run over before, and “rationally” I know its unlikely to happen in the future. But still I find myself either sprinting across the road when its quiet, or waiting to cross the road with the pregnant lady so no-one ploughs me over. My obsession over road crossing is just one area in which my anxiety from living in a transphobic society coalesces outwardly into something which other people might recognise as weird.
For most trans people I know, anxiety is a constant companion. Sometimes it comes over us like the photo-negative of a sugar rush, intense, whilst other times it sits quietly but presently in the background. And when its not there, we anticipate its arrival.
We live in a time of anticipation.
We anticipate misgendering, perplexed looks, ignorance, transphobia. Even when what we anticipate does not occur (yet), we act as if it has, and it becomes an inevitability.
I think it has something to do with waiting lists. My whole life seems to be about waiting lists nowadays (even if I am not on one yet – I am waiting to be on one). We are kept in a constant state of anticipation: waiting for a letter or phonecall from the GIC, a prescription, a surgery date…
We are used to waiting, orientated towards the future like iron filings lining themselves up towards a magnet. We are focussed on the future whether that’s the future where we have already had access to healthcare treatment, or the future where the (seemingly inevitable) acts of transphobia have already taken place. Because we are always waiting for this future the present seems compressed somehow, like our lives are in limbo.
But looking to the future can also be positive.
Creating change requires us to live in a state of anticipation. It seeks to build a politics of hopefulness rather than of dread, preparedness rather than an anxiousness. Its not a naive hopefulness that ignores the very real harm that can come to us, but a strategic hopefulness. One that recognises that the way we think about the future has an impact on the present.
This isn’t about positive thinking or some individualistic bullshit. Its about the importance of making collective and radical demands. Demands are anticipatory. They stretch out, open palmed to the multitude of possible futures ahead of us and beckon them closer. They turn the ambiguity of anxious anticipation into a foundation that can be built upon.
What are your demands?
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