Friday, October 27, 2017

Why Do We Mistrust Black Cats And Trans Women So Much?

Binx - Image Credit: Martin Williams
Eight months ago, my cat Star died unexpectedly.  The unexpected grief I felt was devastating.  His death came as everything else in my life began to come right. He had arrived 11 years earlier when it was all going wrong. A beautiful cat, he came to live with me and my daughter at really difficult time for us both.  I was a single Mum, she was a teen in turmoil.  I'm Trans and my daughter lesbian. When Star arrived, I was facing discrimination at work and she at school.  The gift of a new kitten brought us focus, joy and light during distinctly dark times.  Whereas others can cast you as less than human, a kitten accepts you without question, depending on you totally. 

Fifteen weeks ago, two lesbian friends gave me a black kitten to adopt. His name is Binx. I welcomed him with open arms, yet black cats have a hard time being accepted in mainstream culture.  Cat Shelters report they are much harder to re-home with up to 70% of their cats being black or black and white. People are unhappy to have one cross their path. They’ll switch to the opposite side of the street to avoid one. Black cats are mistrusted.  It is much the same if you’re Trans. Early in my transition, few wanted to be my friend outside the LGBT community.  Even within the Gay community there was mistrust, especially from radical feminist lesbians.  A girly girl, I rapidly learned to be cautious of femininity lest I get put down for it. These were people I had looked up to and I felt hurt to be accused of perpetuating and reinforcing gender stereotypes. So much of that mistrust comes from misunderstandings about the nature of being Trans.  Folklore abounds: I was variously told that I was a Gay man who couldn't hack being male, a pervert, a threat to women, delusional, fetishistic and a freak of nature.

I'm a woman with a black cat. I've studied and trained as a therapeutic counsellor. I think independently and write publicly about alternative issues and lifestyles. I am not someone's stereotype of a submissive female with no mind of my own. I am proud of who I am, fiercely defensive of my femininity and I just happen to love felines. Many years ago, lone, learned women skilled in healing and marginalised from society kept cats as companion animals. If you were single and female, just possessing a black cat would raise suspicions you were a witch.  Those black cats were thought to be a witches' familiars, their magical servants or personal demons. Just like being Trans, nobody saw these women for what they really were; herbalists, healers, sympathetic with the natural world and too learned for the likes of male dominated society. These women were often convicted at trials on the hearsay of others or simply being acknowledged to be a witch.  It seems bizarre today.  These poor women were put to death with no justice at all simply on the say so of others.

But maybe it isn't so bizarre.  Communities in fear always look to outsiders to blame.  In times past, if a child died unexpectedly, witches were suspected of cursing them. Anything unnatural was thought the devil's work.  Witch hunts ensued as people struggled to deal with things they couldn't understand. Few people truly understand what it means to be Trans. The term witch hunt passed into modern parlance and the practice still persists.  Are Trans females seen as the new witches? When I listen to the arguments around banning Trans women from using female toilets I fear they are. Trans women are suspected of being men in disguise, deliberately invading female only spaces to violate women. I have lost count of anecdotes and hearsay about men in dresses who insisted they were women but clearly behaved in an overtly male and threatening way.  The inference is that these individuals are not to be trusted, they are rapists at heart and should be stopped.  In reality, we go to the loo to pee, wash our hands and do our make-up. Seeing us as a threat is about as logical as a black cat bringing misfortune.

I hate to disappoint people, but we need to ascribe bad luck and threats to women to some other cause: Black cats are just cats and Trans females? They're simply women.

Huggs, 
Jane xx


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It’s Time to Reject Objectification And Harassment for All Women NotJust a Selection.

Image credit: Martin Williams
There is often debate about whether Trans Women like myself are real women. It focuses partly on our supposed lack of shared experiences. Together with other women, I’ve been aware the past few weeks have been very much about powerful men and sex, objectification and sexual harassment. Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine died at the end of September. In the last few days Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of The Weinstein Company has been constantly in the news. The public outcry over Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment of women has featured on just about every media channel.  Objectification and sexual harassment are closely linked.  The first dehumanises us by focusing solely on our body parts, the second takes that focus and assumes an entitlement to sexual gratification from us. I’m not here to comment on Hefner or Weinstein; others have done so ad infinitum in recent days. Celebrities have been very vocal in making accusations and giving opinions but what about ordinary women or Trans women for that matter?

Most women I suspect have endured their share of objectification; ass grouping; skirt lifting; breast touching and being felt up. In spite of those who mistakenly argue we enjoy male privilege; objectification, harassment and abuse are a regular occurrence for Trans women too. Most of us suffer in silence. I grew up gender non-conforming in a world where these things were everyday. It scared me a good deal then, and even more now. An ambivalent, sensitive child I attracted the wrong type of attention. I didn’t exactly come out but I was hardly in either. I borrowed my Mum’s clothes, generally with her knowledge.  I dressed attractively and was brave enough to be myself; a teen girl who happened to have a boy’s birth certificate.  I was all too aware of things adult men shouldn’t do to girls but when a Gay friend of my parent’s groped me I said nothing. I felt like a freak and as such I didn’t expect to be protected. It happened frequently and often.  I came to dread meeting him and I grew to hate men. By the time I was 13 it had become sexual abuse. That abuse was dehumanising. It left me with a depressing feeling that my sex parts were all that mattered to others, even if they were the wrong ones. I couldn’t begin to discuss my gender identity with adults let alone my abuse. When I grew up I promised myself that things would change.

When I came out again and began transitioning I thought the world had indeed altered.  It was a new millennium after all. The Gay community had secured a greater acceptance. I took a low paid job, a flat in a seaside town and got on with the job of raising my 11 year old daughter and being myself. I was grateful to get a replacement birth certificate showing the right gender this time but now objectification took on a new guise. The first time someone quizzes you about your body parts you respond politely.  The request is usually prefaced with ‘I hope you don’t think I’m being intrusive but…’ At work, complaints were made about which toilets I used and the changing facilities. The focus was always on my genitals. It was as though being Trans, this was the only important thing about me. I lost count of the number of times I was touched down there or asked if my breasts or hair were real. It was the men who touched me.  It was the women who asked me. Was it to find out what sex I was or to have the novelty of touching a Transsexual woman? The male response was at least familiar, that from other women floored me and sent me home in tears. I had expected support from most but I got it from only a small group of my female colleagues. I desperately needed a job to pay my rent and bring up my daughter. I didn’t dare complain. Not for the first time I was given the impression that as a Trans female I had brought all this on myself.

Belatedly now I’m speaking out, fortunately from a better place in life.  I’m married to a really understanding guy. I run my own business and I’m positive about my gender identity and sexual expression. When I was a girl I had no inspirational stories to read that helped me understand who I was. I had a choice; either become stealth and keep quiet or write and inspire others.   As an adult therefore, I chose being out and writing about my experiences. Fortunately I now have supportive friends who don’t ask about my genitalia and who accept that I’m just another woman. They do this by, surprise surprise, treating me like everyone else. My breasts, my hair, my figure, my bum and my vagina are all my own but more importantly they are just one aspect of a person with a life, feelings and a mind of her own. I freely admit that I’m an erotic model but that’s just a job.  It doesn’t give strangers the entitlement to sexually touch or harass me. I still get groped and touched in clubs these days but I don’t remain silent anymore. Women have the right to reject objectification and abuse.  It is time to reinforce that right applies to ALL women including those of us who happen to be Trans or who work in the Sex Industry.

Huggs, Jane xx

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

As a Trans Woman, Being Investigated For My Second Job As an Erotic Model Has Felt Like a 17th Century Witch Trial


Image Credit: Jane Williams

On Tuesday September 12th this year, my life turned upside down.  A Fitness to Practice Hearing took place in Ewloe, Flintshire, to determine if my work as an erotic model was unprofessional. It was held by Wales' Education Watchdog. I had previously worked as a Teaching Assistant in a College there. After countless job applications, it had been the only work I could get as a Trans Woman with a Teaching Certificate and a PhD. 

Inevitably, the hearing was attended by journalists from the tabloids. When the story aired the following day, the words 'witch hunt' crop up repeatedly in people’s online comments. Flintshire's last witch hunt took place exactly 360 years ago to the month in 1657.

Some women like myself pose professionally for erotic photographs; this isn't an illegal activity. Some men spend their time looking at them; this isn't illegal either. It was a male colleague who outed me to my employers after finding my photos of me online.  I lost my career and resigned because of my second job.  He appears to have kept his from what I understand.

I didn't attend the hearing. I'm an event caterer, not a teaching assistant. I have a thriving business running a pop-up Barista service at events and festivals; in full swing at this time of year. I had bookings to honour and customers to serve. Nobody would have compensated me for losses had I cancelled them. Despite repeated requests for a delay the professional body failed to acquiesce or to send documents in a format my computer could process. I didn't even have a date or time. My absence of response should have indicated I wouldn't be there.  Nonetheless the hearing went ahead.

Research into the cost of hearings held by this professional body’s predecessor reveals that eight years ago,  an average of £17,400 was spent on each one day hearing.  Mine was a two day hearing. It isn't clear how much it cost but £17,400 is not far off twice what I earned as a Teaching Assistant.

Speaking to me after the event last week, a freelance journalist working for one of the tabloids remarked; 

"It was like a North Korean show trial. They kept us waiting for six hours while they made their decision. The wouldn't even tell us how to spell your name properly." 

It was also clear talking to other journalists that they themselves felt badly treated. They remarked on the 'one sided' nature of the hearing and of me 'being treated unfairly’.

I have made no secret that transphobic treatment at work meant I would never return to the field of education.  Education, particularly in Wales, can be extremely narrow minded.  You can withstand these things for so long.  I endured it for 10 years as a single Mum bringing up a family.  I hate taking handouts and I needed a job; it provided a means to survive, no more. When I quit in Spring 2016, I moved back to Northern England for good. It makes me wonder why, 18 months later, an organisation from a neighbouring country still seeks to ban me from a job I don’t want and in such a costly manner.  It seems bizarre, pointless, and an shameful waste of public resources.

Being Trans is tough enough.  You learn to cope and adjust to the public intolerance but when you do something others disapprove of, the term 'transgender' is pinned to you like a pink triangle.  I was described variously in the national press as a 'Transgender Porn Star' and 'Transgender Teaching Assistant'. Quite how the prefix 'transgender' is supposed to help the public understanding, I'm not quite sure. I'm a heterosexual woman, I did straight porn that appears, shrink wrapped on the top shelf of almost every corner newsagent in the UK. Surely my being Trans was irrelevant. Maybe the addition of ‘transgender’ is intended to make the story seem smuttier and more salacious.

I accepted by resigning that my two jobs were considered to be incompatible.  I did not behave unprofessionally. I never mixed my two roles or discussed one while doing the other.  Yet in the end it was clearly best for me to leave: My employer no longer wanted me, I hated my job and I hated transphobia ridden education.  I moved away gladly from a community which had often shown intolerance. It is my body; my choice; my life. I chose a new life where I could be myself.

My resignation should have been an end to things. Instead, the investigation was raised and been relentlessly pursued ever since.

The press report that the hearing was adjourned indefinitely. You can read about it if you wish in the online editions of the tabloids.  See what you think. My heart sank as I read them.  It is 2017 not 1657. Yet 360 years on, Wales seems to have taken a complete circle back to it's witch hunting past.


Huggs, Jane xx

Friday, August 11, 2017

It Is Time To Treat Erotic Models As People

I am trans, I'm also an ambitious and well educated woman with a higher degree. However, like many trans women post transition, I've found that barriers to working as a professional abound.  My mother, a feminist, politician and writer taught me to aspire to be the best I could possibly be.  Consequently I trained as an educator, working in universities, colleges and schools. Well qualified, I found it easy to get jobs. After coming out however, few would employ me. I spent ten years working as a low paid teaching assistant on little more than minimum wage.  With a child to care for and rent to pay, I had little option but to take what was given. Having to prostitute myself by debasing the skills I had worked so hard to learn was saddening and depressing in the extreme.  Like so many, I began to ask myself why I had worked so hard at education only to be paid less than a man with the same skills. In consequence, I chose to live as economically as possible, saving hard to become independent and self-employed. I spent each day looking forward to the time I could work for myself and do so with dignity. 

I'm a feminist like my mum, but deeply shocking to some, I am also an erotic model. I have been for some time. The money I earn has been a lifeline on an otherwise low income. It wasn't the reason I chose to do it however. Coming out as trans, there are always those who question your right to be called a woman. I chose porn modelling because it was validating.  I'm a woman attracted to men.  I'm unashamedly pleased and flattered when a man finds me sexually attractive. I don't need it to feel good but it is gratifying. It doesn't mean that he gets to have sex with me, that is my choice.  I choose my partners and I seek out sexual experiences I enjoy and which fulfil me. I know good sex and won't accept anything less. Porn modelling can be an extension of that - work I like doing and which is empowering to me as a woman. It is an expression of my female sexuality and a positive statement. One which emphasises that women enjoy sex too. It does not have to be objectifying. When I remove my clothes and pose in front of the camera it is my choice and I do not demean myself in the process. On shoots, I am always treated courteously and respectfully.  Unlike my later work in education it does not feel like prostitution. I have talent and genetic advantages. Pro rata I get paid well. I love my work.


If you work in the legal sex industry, privacy will always be a problem.  My work has appeared in numerous adult magazines, yet fans tend to take it onto social media. Like it or not, when you sell photographs of yourself, you do make those images public. Among men who enjoy seeking out images of you, there will always be some, who through guilt or self righteousness, want to out and despise you. To me, it says much about their sense of shame around sex and their patriarchal view of a woman's role in it. To these men, women should be chaste and pure, at least their wives and girlfriends. Sex is something a man enjoys and a woman provides. Consequently, the idea of a body positive woman showing she enjoys sex, is wrong.

Some time ago, I had to leave my previous job when a man outed me as a porn model to my employer. I had never connected my two separate roles.  I worked with adults and not children. I had little choice, either I faced disciplinary action or left. Even the union that claimed to protect my rights refused to help me.  It was an object lesson in how some in society still view women and sex. I am not complaining. I chose to leave and move on. There was little point in fighting for a job in which I felt prostituted and undervalued. Taking the plunge, I decided the time was right to start living my dream. I now run my own event catering business with my husband. It is good to be the boss, living confidently and feeling proud. The day I decided to employ myself was a positive step forward toward doing a job I love. My mother, who taught me to bake and have high standards in the kitchen, would have been proud.

I also still model and I'm not ashamed to do so. The workforce body I was compelled to join, weeks before leaving, want to censor me still.  I am faced with being denied entry to a role I no longer want, in a country where I no longer live. It seems a waste of energy to carry out what is essentially a slut shaming process. One which maintains a stereotype of women who do porn as victims. Women who do porn are people.  They do it for many reasons, not all good. It is however, a job some of us are proud of, one that can be validating and sex positive.  Men have long since had the freedom to do what they want with their own bodies. As a feminist I believe women should be free to do the same. We chose this work because we wanted to. It is time to start treating us as human beings like everyone else.

Huggs,

Jane xox

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Let's Develop a Thinking Attitude Towards Gender Identity


Image Credit: Martin Williams

The UK Advertising Standards Agency announced recently that it would be taking a tougher line on gender stereotyping. I applaud that. It has been a long time coming. For the Trans community however gender stereotyping is something else.  We grow up battling one set of stereotypes but are often accused of over-conforming to another.

Those of us born before the millenial watershed can have very fixed ideas about gender.  Some of us were born into an era where boys were boys and girls were a good deal less equal. It was all too easy to grow up imagining that you'd settle down (as I did) with a nice guy, have two children, a dog and a beautiful but somewhat chaotic house. I imagined the house would be in a leafy Victorian suburb. I would willingly give up an academic career (as I did) to have the children I wanted. Meanwhile he would provide for a growing family with a well paid job. He would be ambitious and I would support him. I would write maybe while the kids were at school and teach part time. It was a very sexist, somewhat materialistic yet very compelling dream. Why did I buy into it? It didn't come from my mother surely. She was a feisty feminist, a local politician and writer. She believed quite rightly that women were equal to men. She chose to have only one child and a career. She also encouraged her daughter to believe she could achieve anything if she tried hard enough.

Though advertising was partly to blame, I suppose I absorbed some of my aspirations from my friends and social circle. They were mainly other girls. In addition I rebelled against overmuch encouragement to be equal to boys.  After all, as far as others were concerned, I was supposed to be one. I hated the expectations of macho manhood, male responsibility, over assertiveness and dominance. No wonder I chose the opposite, wanting to create and nurture life, not to direct and command it. Rejecting masculinity as I child I hit the feminine side of life so hard that I became girly to the n'th degree, at least for a while. When someone denies your right to be the gender you are, you can go to extremes. As as teen I rejected one stereotype yet almost fell into another.

So, what if there had been no gender expectations? Would I still have identified strongly as a girl? As it was, I defied traditional gender roles, learning to sew and stitch my own clothes, dressing and presenting androgynously. A transgender parent, Kori Doty, recently had their baby Searyl categorised as neither male nor female. Their child will hopefully grow up with no parental expectations and I'm sure they will endeavour to shield them from sexist notions and stereotypes that might influence a young mind. So does it really matter what gender you claim? Do you even need to have one? In an era when FtM fathers give birth and MtF mothers breastfeed their babies, traditional gender reference points are being challenged. Non-binary people exist without traditional gender markers and my bi-gender partner is sometimes my wife as well as my husband. I often ask people, 'So how do you know that you're male or female? Could you prove it without resorting to a birth certificate or focussing solely on what's between your legs? Arguments inevitably arise around genitalia, bearing children or having experienced life from a disadvantaged perspective. I have used some of these arguments myself. Yet genitalia are markers of sex not gender. Shared female experiences like my own try to define women in terms of negative treatment. I have held on to them because it helps support my feminist ideology. None of this helps however. Your gender is who you are and a person is so much more than just a body part. Fond as I was of gender markers as an anchor point, I suspect they are a substitute for getting to know a person fully. We don't have to think about a person's uniqueness if we can apply a label to them. We can assume they conform to a set of collective attributes. If we accept that everyone is unique, why categorise? It is a marker of a respectful thinking society that we allow someone to define themselves as a person without thinking we know better.

None of this is a threat to who we are or the way we want to do things. I am respectful of gender non-conformity in spite of having done the big white wedding and being a Bride in a beautiful dress. I loved having my future husband propose on one knee. I asked my cousin to 'give me away'. I felt accomplished being a stay at home Mum and nurturing a family.  These are traditions and personal decisions. They are not rules or a code to classify someone by. Neither are they reasons to accuse someone of being stereotypically female. Indeed, they can be flouted or embraced. We can choose some and leave others. Perfectly content wielding a socket set or pumping out the bilge on my houseboat home, I am also equally happy at the helm of a 35 foot cruising yacht. If we use pre-millennial reference points to position ourselves we mustn't insist everyone does the same. Dearly as I once held  the concepts of male and female, if their meanings are used to insult and tyrannise, they have outlived their usefulness.


Huggs, Jane xx

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Challenge of Living with a Bi-Gender Partner


Let me preface this post by asserting my own gender identity as a transsexual woman.  I unashamedly celebrate my femininity and my womanhood.  I wouldn't care to be acknowledged as anything other than female.  I was the preteen trans child who sewed her own clothes, mooned over dreamy boys, borrowed garments from her Mum with full parental consent and rejected her own body parts. Nowadays, I'm an unapologetic girly girl and I rock at it.  I enjoy having doors opened for me by men (shock horror).   I don't feel at all patronised when I'm treated as a lady. I know what I want in sex but I'm quite prepared to use my feminine wiles to get it.  I routinely wear skinny jeans and tops but I also have a small collection of dresses. I occasionally wear party heels (then regret it later). The nearest I get to cross dressing is slipping on my husband's shirt when I get up or gratefully accepting the loan of his jacket if it turns chilly. I wear them because they're his. They're clearly too big.  They smell of him and are so easy to put on. I love his reaction too. However I don't pretend to be any sort of ideal woman, this is just me.

If I have to look in my husband's wardrobe for his shirt (rarely - why do men chuck their clothes on the furniture or the floor?), I find another woman's clothes there.  There's no huge cause for alarm, they belong to his other half, the third 'half' that isn't me. My partner is bi-gender; she is occasionally my wife, mainly my husband.

Pause for thought, I'm Transsexual so this should be no biggie, right?  I found it didn't quite work that way. When we met, I fell in love with the cross dressing element of my boyfriend's life.  It was fun going shopping together; such a giggle and so light hearted.  I felt assured of his predominantly male personality even so. As I got to know him that began to change.  Others suggested that he might soon want to transition. It made me worry and upset myself for fear of losing the man I loved. Worry turned to annoyance as some asked what dress my partner would wear on our wedding day.  My reactions to all of this took me by surprise and concerned me and I began to feel guilty at feeling that way at all. When I transitioned, I hated the way others rejected me yet here I was effectively doing the same. What was going on? I could have run, I'm so glad I didn't. I would have been running from something I didn't understand.  Lack of understanding is never an excuse for walking away.

Since, I have come to realise that my partner does not choose to be male or female at any particular time.  This is not a choice but an involuntary feeling which lasts for hours then switches to the opposite gender again.  My partner can be naked and feel either male or female.  Clothes and makeup are only necessary to signal the switch to the outside world, they have no effect on the feelings inside. There are inconvenient times when friends expect to see my wife only to be confronted with my husband. External expectations do not bear on a bi-gender person's identity. This should have been all too familiar to me.  I have never ever felt male, even when I was younger.  The protestations of others, including my parents only made me feel miserable.

I came to realise in time that I love them both, but not in the same way.  They are one person but there are two distinct personas. This is the only way I can describe it.  She drives the car differently to him, is less confident and less assertive.  When she writes and expresses herself it comes from the heart, he is more guarded and defensively upbeat, so economical with his words.  When you marry you commence a journey toward ever deepening understanding: For me that has involved getting to know two sides of one person.  I am only attracted to men.  Transitioning, I realised with a shock that I was straight and heterosexual. I have lots of girl mates but they are just that; 'my girls' who I love girly nights out with. My partner is lesbian when she is female and heterosexual when he is male. She is sexually attracted to me but it's not reciprocal.  He only turns me on as my husband. If I'm out with her, he sends me fond messages saying he misses me, it helps me to know he's still there.

I'm still learning, still adjusting and marvelling at the amazingly complex spectrum the bi-gender community presents.  When I transitioned, others said 'Isn't it wonderful to be able to see both sides, male and female?' I don't see it. I've never experienced life from a male perspective.  I did my best to conform to expectations and made a complete hash of it.  I felt like a reluctant cross-dresser until I transitioned.  My partner really DOES see both sides; a two spirit individual.  I would love to be like that but I can't.

I've concluded that you can try TOO hard to understand.  I still don't fully get it but I no longer feel tempted to walk away.  Some things are tiny miracles, being bi-gender is one of them.

HUGGS, Jane xx


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Devaluing the Pink Pound



Living on a canal barge I'm aware that 'pound' has two meanings, currency for sure but also a stretch of canal between two locks. A Trans woman, my home isn't on dry land, it floats.  Its location, New Islington Marina is close to Manchester's bustling city centre. It is home not only to my blogging self and husband, but also for thirty seven other families. It lies in the pound between lock 82 on Great Ancoats Street and Butler Lane Locks.  In a way it is a Pink Pound: The marina community is home to every letter in the LGBT alphabet. There is an important reason for this.

The Millenium Community of New Islington grew up around what is now the Marina. It lies between two historic canals; the Ashton and the Rochdale.  Historically a heavily industrial area, New Islington later became the site of the Cardroom Estate, a social housing community completed in the 1970's.  By the 90's the estate had become impoverished reputedly one of the worst in the UK.  The canals had become little more than an aqueous rubbish dump. Fresh moves were then made to regenerate the area.  An ambitious project to create over a thousand new homes was put forward, displacing residents and proposing an array of properties from new builds to residential conversions of old mill buildings. By the time the recession hit, less than 200 homes had been built and the project went into stagnation. In an attempt to regain control of developments, Manchester City Council clawed back control after the area had initially been leased to developers for 250 years.

As so often happens with regenerated waterside locations, gentrification began.  Creative young professionals moved in and among them many families from Manchester's LGBT community.  In neighbouring Ancoats, the quaintly named General Store carries Attitude Magazine, Diva and Gay Times as well as an amazing selection of designer teas.  It is easy to stereotype our community, but such a product range signals a fairly affluent new community with money to spend. This includes that all important pink pound.

Paul Allen, a Gay friend recalled to me a trip made to Boston in 2009.  He found himself sitting next to a man from Philadelphia returning to the U.S. He relates "

The passenger and I started a conversation, during which he told me about his business trip to Manchester. He was from a State planning committee on an investigation to see how Manchester City Council had used the Pink Pound/LGBT communities to regenerate the city centre.  He was so impressed with how successful this had been he was going to encourage the same process for American cities".

It was an inspired move.  The LGBT community are a demographic increasingly used by developers and advertisers It taps into the sizeable income some LGBT families seem to enjoy. However the stereotype of the affluent Gay couple with a cute dog and lots of money are a gloss.  In reality the LGBT community is diverse, some sections of it being very poor indeed.  We do not all work in design consultancies or bespoke interior design studios. Trans individuals like myself can suffer an huge drop in income when they come out.  A qualified and talented Early Years teacher I found it impossible to get paid work after beginning transition. I was instead forced to work as a teaching assistant on a minimal wage.  My bi-gender partner has fared little better. I lived in a narrow minded and puritanical North Wales town, suffering transphobia, workplace discrimination and harassment. Moving to Manchester became a flight to a place of refuge, not a stepping stone to assured affluence.

I have never owned my own flat and never had a place that felt like home.  To me, home means a place to feel safe, a haven of acceptance and belonging; omewhere you can sleep at night without worrying about passing, being outed or hated. New Islington Marina, a harbour for up to 40 inland craft became that haven when I moved here in July 2015.  Both myself and my husband found an incredibly accepting, close knit community: One we could finally call home.  Moving from rented accommodation to a canal barge, we bought our first home from a lesbian couple who were moving to Skye. I've spoken about it in earlier blogs.  It also provided the starting point for a new business, Northern Grind.  Aware of Manchester's reputation as a street food capital we set up a mobile barista service, trading in local markets and Manchester's many LGBT events.  It was a decision we haven't regretted.  The response has been amazing and our business is beginning to flourish. For me, the Pink Pound is both my home and my livelihood. I am part of Manchester's Hospitality Industry and contribute to local wealth generation.  This is something I want to hang on to dearly.

As we made friends, we began to realise how many fellow LGBT community members live here, each with their own reasons for choosing the Marina as home. I interviewed two of them for this blog and include their stories here.


GRACE
If you're lesbian and single, your lot isn't necessarily a luxury apartment in a converted mill. Grace came to live here two years ago.  A chef at Manchester's Cottonopolis, she told me how she had always loved boats and desperately wanted to live on one.  Like ourselves Grace is no stranger to homophobia, something that is particularly worriesome if you're a single girl living alone on a boat.  Like myself, she isn't rolling on a bed of pink pound coins: the catering industry doesn't pay megabucks. When she saw her current boat and fell in love with it she was concerned about how she might afford the £10k price tag. Negotiating with the then owner, she came to a part ownership arrangement, paying for her home in small instalments so that she could own it outright. 

Grace lives with her endearingly amiable dog Rolo. A Staffy/Sharpei cross, he is Grace's constant companion and ready friend to any resident who might have a little food. Originally, moored to the canal towpath above Droylesden, she never felt safe. She was on the waiting list for a marina berth for six long months and was granted a permanent mooring 2 years ago. I asked if it was a relief and she replied "100%". Now, even though she lives alone, Grace values the strong sense of community, mutual help, neighbourliness and friendship, something she observes has vanished from modern life. Her boat Luna has mains electricity provided on the pontoon and a fresh water tap to fill the on board tank.  These are luxuries unknown to boaters forced to live 'on the cut'. There you might have to travel some distance to a water point and rely on batteries and engine for electricity. As well as safety, Grace also values the peace and tranquility of Cottonfield Park. The Marina lies at its centre.  She talks about the almost rural calm you get in the city centre only a short distance from Manchester's main streets.


BECKY
Becky, a single lesbian woman, lives aboard her 'banana boat'. The pale yellow superstructure of her home describes a gentle upward curve toward the prow.  Like most of the water craft here it is distinctive and different, I pass it everyday as I walk along the pontoon from my own boat. A half open window on one side allows her cat to get in and out.  "I have to have the usual cat", she quips. "I decided to name her Token". Token is adventurous but shy.  Late last night, on a hot summer night I had the bedroom windows open.  Token peeped in with a tentative miaow, looked around and then went on her way.

Like Grace, Becky talks of her need for a safe accepting place and her relief at finding a home here 3 years ago.  Like Grace and myself, Becky works in Manchester's busy hospitality industry. She is a host for Premier Inn.  When Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi targeted Ariana Grande's concert the hotel where she works offered shelter to those displaced by the blast and its resulting chaos. She works long unsocial hours and night shifts. Being on a Marina in the city centre, Becky values being able to cycle back within minutes, something essential when you're doing it at 2am!  She is able to let herself in to the locked compound with her boater's key, a thing all of us have and value.  Security and peace of mind mean much in a city centre location, especially if you're a single woman. 

"My boat is called 'Life of Riley'", she explains. "It was up in Hyde and where it was it did not feel like a safe place to be out. It was unsecured and down a dark and muddy pathway."

Becky reports that she is saving hard to renovate and improve her boat.  When she took it on, it did not have a working engine. Even the smaller narrow boats can weigh between 10 and 12 tons.  To get her boat to its chosen home in New Islington wasn't easy. "I got a tow about half way and then pulled it the rest of the way, took a day, with help to get here and it was the best thing I've ever done!!!!"

Becky, Grace and myself represent only two of the LGBT letters here in New Islington Marina.  We are however representative of a community that doesn't find acceptance elsewhere.  Like other marginalised individuals we don't get an easy ride if we live out in unaccepting rural or suburban areas. Combine that with living a lonely life out on the cut you become doubly sensitive to hatred, homophobia or transpohobia.  Finding a home within an accepting community like New Islington Marina is much more than a idyllic waterborne lifestyle.  It represents a safe space with others on hand to help if necessary.  The life is far from idyllic in Winter.  Becky is looking for a refurbished log burner to keep her and Token cosy during the freezing winter months. The neighbourliness and friendship however is always warm.

EPILOGUE
Successful as the Pink Pound has been in regenerating Manchester's rust belt, there are alarming signs of corrosion. This month saw an unexpected turn of events for all 38 of New Islington Marina's residents. We all received letters from Manchester City Council informing us that repairs to the Marina would mean eviction at the end of August. It was made clear that there would be no guaranteed return even after a 12 to 18 month closure period.  A once safe, secure and supportive community is now facing displacement and disintegration.  It seems like the Pink Pound, invaluable in pioneering the area's renaissance, is now no longer good currency with the City Council.  Intent on handing the Marina over to a faceless, commercial management company the authority now risk the jobs, homes and security of a whole community.

For me as a Trans woman, I face the very real possibility of a forced return to Stealth.  I risk losing my newly founded Transgender catering business and my home in the city that sustains it. Nights are sleepless sometimes. I've been through some tough periods but this time I'm really scared. Scared but still proud.

The Marina residents are pledged to fight this decision which imperils their very livelihood and safety.  Our Residents Association: NIMRA is working hard to change it so that the community can remain. Their slogan 'Divided we Sink, United we Float' sums up how strong the feeling is and how devastating the loss of their homes would be. We have to float.

You can find out more about the campaign and how to help here:

https://m.facebook.com/nimra.mcr/
http://instagram.com/nimra.mcr

Please sign the petition to save the Marina community here:

Donate to fund our campaign to save the Marina community here:

HUGGS, Jane xx