CW: food mentions, misogynistic slur, queerphobic violence, mentions of assault & murder attempts & homelessness, discussion of systemic privilege
I sit in an outrageously cozy room near Jesus Green, letting my gaze drift from the respectably full bookshelf stocked in fashionably eclectic manner, to the mantelpiece, where a small army of foxes in felt, wood, and even soapstone gaze serenely back. It is a comfortable night, a warm night, one that lends itself to fond recollection of things past and hopeful dreaming about things yet to come. Of course, my reverie is shattered by the harsh reality of the present; not only am I to write, but I am to write thoughtfully and clearly about a rather personal matter about which I am nonetheless quite pleased to talk whenever I can. So be it: ma vie est ma matière, et ma matière est ma vie. I set pen to paper partly in order to amuse myself, and I make no apologies for it; what is better than to spin yarns for those who are close to you, sharing together the ebb and flow of the narrative in a joint expedition to the very guts of the Self? And who is closer to me right now than my reader, who is afforded a glimpse into the somewhat-inner workings of a mind that belongs to a gender-fluid polyamorist?
I was raised in Greenpoint, a now-gentrified neighborhood of Brooklyn, to a single mother who to my knowledge still works as a cleaning lady in Manhattan. I grew up quite poor but quite content with life, as my mother cultivated in me a great thirst for knowledge and would take me on frequent visits to the public library. Though we were often at want for the handful of dollars required for a slice of pizza, I never lacked mental or spiritual stimulation, and as I grew older I used this great boon of intellectual curiosity to gather my spirits, rising to become a Gates-Cambridge Scholar. It is with unmitigated pleasure that I now write the dramatic story of wit and perseverance, hard work and unwavering faith in Christ, in both prose and verse; the fluidity of genre shall reflect the fluidity of my own person.
Or I could not, for that would not only be self-aggrandizing but also make me one of the least self-aware pillocks ever to menace the streets of Cambridge.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Yes, I am the proverbial ‘Brooklyn boy’ who applied himself to his schoolwork, dutifully assimilating to the country that his parents immigrated to, attending one of the best specialised schools in New York City before graduating summa cum laude at a Jesuit university and moving on to a fully-funded seat as an MPhil student to read for a degree in Classics. However, it is crucial to recognise the fact that despite all of the grit and determination required to achieve all of the above, I was in no small way aided by factors totally out of my control, such as race and sex. It is true that I grew up in a greater state of poverty than what some students at Cambridge might fathom; however, I had relatively easy access to educational materials and a mother who, though struggling financially, always took the greatest pains to ensure that I was reading my books.
I shan’t mention the beatings that I endured as a child for ‘being gay’ or a ‘bitch’. I will gloss over the continuous damage done to me by my mother as I grew older and she began to see demons floating around me. It is not worth discussing the times that people tried to assault or kill me, or how I put the finishing touches on my application to Cambridge while homeless. Of course, I am here now on a Gates scholarship, and, as far as I perceive, alive.
I know that it’s fascinating. I can assure you that my memoirs are under construction, and that they shall be sent to a respectable publishing-house when I am in my early 30s. I am a fascinating person who has far too many stories to tell. There is a place and a time for viscerally arresting people’s attention to my story and, by proxy, that of other people who identify as trans. However, I am not going to do that now; instead, I am going to make a blunt and artless statement: We do not need to be interesting, edgy, or adept storytellers for people to listen to us. We are people like anyone else, and can be just as boring, though I certainly have not had much boredom in my life. We are just like other people; we share hopes, dreams, and opinions on whatever this ‘Marmite’ I keep hearing about is. Unlike many other people, however, we face a disproportionate amount of harassment and discrimination, even from within the LGB+ community. Instead of trying to find stories that will either make you say, ‘Oh, dear!’ in dismay or feel good, think on that. Think on the people who do not have a chance to attend Cambridge, let alone write for its various news channels. Remember them, and honour them by taking decisive action. Get in touch with Make No Assumptions, the trans CUSU LGBT+ Trans campaign, here: http://www.makenoassumptions.org.uk/.