The Gender Identity panel took place in Panel Room B on Sunday at Summer in the City 2019. It was moderated by Jake Edwards and featured Noah Finn Adams, Jamie Raines, Shay, Ant Belle and Luxeria Celes.
Jake opened the panel by asking if the panellists felt a responsibility to present the entire trans community in a certain light.
Ant responded that you need to represent yourself authentically. If you dilute yourself it can send the message that all trans people should do the same but, ultimately, you shouldn’t shoulder the responsibility of portraying a very diverse community in a particular way.
Shay largely agreed but also added that they think it’s important, particularly as a trans person of colour, to be themselves in order to portray diverse experiences of trans people.
Jamie explained that as a result of how trans people are portrayed in mainstream media so he feels some responsibility to put out a positive message but also, fundamentally you should just be yourself. Following up this point, Noah said he wants to portray himself in a good way so that there’s a positive representation of trans people.
Luxeria added that simply being visible is a form of activism and so feels some responsibility to be warm and welcoming.
The next question from Jake was how the portrayal of trans people online differs from their portrayal in more mainstream media.
“Mainstream media is not kind to trans people” opened Ant. They explained that there’s a difficult dichotomy – that trans voices are needed in important discussions about a variety of topics, but they shouldn’t need to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring people view trans people as human and equal to others.
Shay added that a lot of people go online to find a positive representation of trans people rather than turning to mainstream media. Jamie felt that mainstream media is often very sensationalised and transphobic. However, the online trans community can become a slight safety bubble. Sometimes mainstream media breaks that bubble and this can be a good thing as it allows people outside the bubble to learn.
Luxeria added that she’d an article written about her by a mainstream newspaper and emphasised that there is always a narrative. She added that mainstream media has come a long way but there is still a long way to go.
The panel was then asked if YouTube was more positive or negative as a result of this difference. Ant stated that the demonetisation of LGBTQ+ content on YouTube is economic discrimination because LGBTQ+ content cannot make money on the platform.
They added that they largely use Instagram now as it’s easier to have conversations and see what kind of questions people want to have answered. However, they feel there is pressure to have everything about your gender figured out and they do not.
Shay commented that they only recently started using YouTube but that on Instagram there are more visible trans people. On YouTube, visible trans people are almost always white.
They want a more inclusive space that’s not negative for them, like mainstream media, and believe improvement is needed. With more work, however, they think it could be a very positive space.
Jamie mentioned that while it can be a negative space, overall it brings more awareness and education to people about trans issues. Noah pointed out that when he started posting on YouTube being a trans creator was a lot more niche. Now more people are watching trans content.
Luxeria started making YouTube videos in 2008. She feels her future does not hold YouTube, echoing Ant’s comments about economic discrimination and how it forces you into small niches. However, on a positive note, she added that YouTube has allowed her to make excellent friends over the years.
Jake then asked if there was a tendency to focus on white trans people and, if so, how this could be remedied. Ant spoke about the presence of the QTIPOC (Queer, transgender, intersex, people of colour) community online but added that there is a clear lack of visibility.
They pointed out that white people generally have more socioeconomic privilege, whereas trans people of colour often have different priorities or don’t have the resources to create content. Many have no internet or camera so in order to see more non-white voices we need to give people access to such resources.
It isn’t as simple as tokenistic diversity. They gave the example of club nights for trans women of colour and discussed how protected such events have to be.
To this, Jake asked: “How do we fix the white people problem?” Shay explained that there are spaces for trans people of colour, however, for safety reasons they have to be highly protected. There is a tendency on YouTube to focus on the white trans experience and white LGBTQ+ people don’t often call out racism in queer spaces.
Agreeing, Ant added that spaces should be designed by people like you if they are for you. Shay then mentioned the community funded Camp Kiki, a retreat for trans people of colour. They added that it’s often very jarring in trans spaces to be one of the very few trans creators of colour.
However, Ant commented that often the racism in LGBTQ+ spaces isn’t intentional, with Jake adding that white members of the community need to do better. Shay pointed out that we need to provide a platform for trans people of colour’s voices.
Noah added that white people need to make more of an effort as fixing this is not the responsibility of people of colour. For Ant, promoting creators who are trans people of colour is important but only if you truly enjoy their content.
Jake then asked the panel to share the funniest hate comment they had ever received. Ant admitted that then don’t read hate comments: “Why would I give my energy to bigots?”
Jamie shared that once somebody wrote an entire paragraph telling him he would always be a man no matter what he does and he will never be a woman, he said it was, in fact, incredibly validating.
For Luxeria, she finds people who copy and paste different bible passages that result in capital letters in the wrong places amusing. Noah said somebody once told him that just because he can grow armpit hair doesn’t mean he should.
Luxeria explained that you can set up an automatic content filter on your channel and block words that you don’t want in your comments.
The conversation then moved on to whether the panellists are bothered if they are viewed as a trans person before anything else. Ant argued that they often aren’t viewed as trans enough, although they’re comforted that they are viewed as a person rather than a “gender freak”.
They want nothing to do with the gender binary and would rather just be seen as a human, adding that they get questions far more frequently about their ethnicity. In work, they would often get asked 17 times a day where they’re from. “I’m making you a coffee, not giving you a genealogy test”, they quipped.
Shay said they don’t view themself as a trans person first, but rather as a black person first. They added that expecting people with intersecting identities to choose which identity to put first is an issue, also noting that they are much more than just a trans person of colour.
Jamie said that he didn’t use to mind being viewed as trans first but also added that his whole life is not just about being trans, so sometimes it bothers him a little now.
Luxeria expressed that she is many things before she is trans. She would identify as a scientist first.
The audience were then given the opportunity to ask questions. One audience member asked how the panellists deal with people that are important to them not accepting the way they identify.
For Luxeria, there is no easy answer. “You do in some ways, have to compromise your life”, eventually some people change but some do not.
Noah added that he knew some people who were kicked out of their homes for coming. Although they followed this up by saying that ignorance is more common than active transphobia. Often you can gradually “ease them in” and educate them about being trans.
Jake added perseverance and education matter, although you need space for yourself as constantly educating others can take a toll on your mental health.
Agreeing, Ant that your safety and wellbeing have to come first. If coming out could end your financial stability or cause you to lose your family, it may not be possible at that time. If it’s safe, absolutely have a discussion but you may have to be a fake version of yourself in order to be yourself in the long run.
Luxeria than pointed out some people surprise you with their acceptance. Shay agreed that education is key, but you don’t always have to be the educator. You shouldn’t come out until you’re ready and it’s essential to “find your community”. Jake agreed and added that “you have your biological family and your logical family”.
The panel was then asked how they feel about trans men doing drag. Jake stated quite simply “drag is for everyone.” Ant added that gatekeeping needs to be taken out of the community. That drag is an art-form.
An audience member who works in the education sector asked for advice about coming out as trans to his students. Noah said that children often accept things quite quickly and he would worry more about adults. Ant added that as children have neuroplasticity they can accept new idea faster than some adults.
The panellists were then asked for their best analogies to explain being transgender. Ant said that before you come out it’s like wearing a really nice pair of shoes that hurt a lot. Afterwards is like wearing the comfiest shoes that look very weird. You would choose comfort first.
Shay said it’s like if you ate bland food for your entire life and then had a delicious seasoned flavoursome piece of food and that you wouldn’t go back to bland food.
Jamie said he often asks his cis friends if they always felt about their gender the way they do now and if their body switched, how would they feel. Noah takes a similar approach and with his friends who are cis men. He often asks them “What would happen if you wake up one day and your dick was just gone”.
Luxeria simply went with “crap makes flowers grow”.
Jake ended the discussion by asking each panellist to compliment an aspect of their own appearance and one thing they like about themself as a whole.
Ant said they are caring and compassionate and that they love their new haircut. Similarly, Shay said they think they’re kind, caring and funny and that they like their cornrows.
Jamie said he can be selfless and that he likes his hair even though it’s receding. Noah said he feels he has made a big effort to be a better person in recent years and that he likes his right nipple.
Luxeria said she likes her height and that she has managed to stick at something for several years now. The panel then turned the question on to Jake who said he likes his fashion sense and his eyelashes.
Photos by Christy Ku.
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