A guest post by Gayle Smith of Tartantights
As the independence debate hots up it seems that the mud slinging between both camps is about to get horribly personal. I do hope I’m wrong about this, as I have many good friends in the Better Together campaign and regardless of the result I fully intend to keep them.
However, to make sure no mud can be slung in my direction I have decided to be open and honest about something which under normal circumstances should be a very personal matter. You see my name is Gayle, I’m a transsexual woman, and I’m voting yes.
You may ask why I would make the choice to be so honest about something which is so private. Well the way I see it is this, there are parallels between my journey to acceptance and the quality of life I now enjoy and Scotland’s journey to yes. At first this statement may surprise or even shock you but stand back for a moment, take time to think and it may begin to dawn on you that these parallels are not nearly so surprising as you first thought.
The first is being told from your so-called betters what you can and cannot do. I should stress that as well as being trans I also have a few medical conditions, or as I prefer to call them impairments. In the early days any interest in wanting to be different is dismissed as a phase,and if you’re a disabled person it’s dismissed even earlier than usual. You are told this is something you will grow out of when you grow up, or find something better to do, which they wrongly assume that you will.
This is not helpful to a young trans person but it happens and it happens because some people don’t seem to get the fact that I have as much control over my gender as I do over my height or the colour of my eyes. In some circles however, ignorance is bliss, and there seems to be a prevailing train of thought if you just ignore the situation or pretend it doesn’t exist you can somehow wish it away.
This is I suspect the attitude many in Unionist circles had at the time of the 1979 devolution referendum. In other words they gave us a token vote and rigged the rules to make sure we couldn’t win then hoped we would quietly accept our lesson and get on with playing the game their way.
When that tactic fails as it always will, you are reminded of the disgrace you will bring on the family name and told in no uncertain terms what the neighbours will think of you for daring to get ideas above your station. Better Together have used many examples of this kind of nonsense during the campaign, the most ludicrous being the fact that we would be invaded for daring to become independent and not keeping those lovely trident weapons of mass murder on the Clyde. Others include being thrown out of the Commonwealth the EU and even the UN. Believe me I recognise scare tactics when I see them, but this bunch of amateurs couldn’t scare a bed sheet let alone a ghost.
The next is no-one will like you and you’ll lose all your friends. Yet again this is complete drivel. Your friends, and believe me Scotland has many, will stand by you no matter what you do. However having crushed your spirit, or at least so they think, they begin to get contented that you are at last beginning to play by the rules they set. Until that is you see an opening and begin to make long term plans. This is something you knew you would have to do but they never even thought about it, primarily because having underestimated from the start they never believed you were capable of making any such arrangements. However you know different and without showing your cards, especially your aces, you begin to set your plans in motion.
Once you develop your plans the ultimate success or failure of it really will be all about timing. For me due to a childhood in which both epilepsy and coordination issues played a far greater part than I would have liked this was perhaps even more significant than most. Also, as is the case with many people born in the 1960’s who identify as trans I did have the tendency to procrastinate and put off till tomorrow what deep down should have been done many yesterdays ago.
This I believe gives me an insight in to the mind of no voters many of whom are as they say proud Scots who love their country but who being a wee bit on the cautious side tend to be risk averse. Therefore I am in many ways the ideal campaigner to engage with those who would like to be persuaded of the potential benefits of independence but have in their eyes legitimate fears and concerns which need to be addressed before they will take what for them is a fairly radical step and requires a genuine leap of faith.
When I talk to people in this situation I often refer to personal independence and ask them how they would feel if someone came in to their homes and told them when to get up in the morning and what they could and could not have for dinner. After all independence is a very personal matter and I believe we owe it to ourselves to be personally responsible for our actions.
I also inform them that my transition is more like Scotland’s journey than they might at first think. I point out that having the traditional Scottish assets of pragmatism and caution I realised that particularly with my medical conditions I would have to stage it over a number of years for my journey to have the successful outcome I wanted. I compare my road to devolution, by saying that it started off in small steps and involved many coming outs and then gathered pace leading to my very personal declaration of independence. Slowly but steadily I began to my plans in motion and knew there was only ever going to be one outcome
The road unsurprisingly perhaps started in the LGBT community before moving on to my local area, then the spoken word and music community. It was here that I gained my strongest support, and backing of enough powerful voices to realise that I would soon be able to tackle the last steps on the journey. These being my work and family and not only that, but they would be tackled on my terms and if they didn’t like it, then they knew what they could do. and if they made that choice then so be it.
Explaining this to people I am often told how brave and courageous I was to take what must have been a big risk and they do seem genuinely shocked when I tell them that the bigger risk would have staying as I was as that would have had implications ,and potentially severe ones, for my emotional health and well being. I compare this to Scotland at this moment in our history and say that the biggest risk is not leave the UK it is in fact staying in the UK. I point to the fact that when the current Trident missiles are replaced by new ones they too will be stationed on the Clyde. I also ask how something such as Trident was deemed too dangerous for Portsmouth but perfectly fine for Glasgow. It seems to me at least, that based on this information the United Kingdom may be nowhere as united as the press and Better Together would have us believe.
I then inform people that Scotland in the last 40 years has produced more oil than Dubai but has nothing to show for it but foodbanks, austerity, and a decimated industrial base which was turned into a wasteland to chase Tory votes in the Home Counties of the stockbroker belt with Labour’s blind loyalty to the Westminster parliament rendering them impotent to do anything about it. The fact is that Scotland needs change and that change can only begin after gaining the full and sovereign powers that independence grants all nations.
What about the practicalities of it? What about the currency and what about what we watch on our TVs? I mean the British government are saying we can’t have the pound and the BBC are saying that we may have to pay a higher licence fee. Firstly I reassure them on the currency by saying that during campaigns such as this one parties and campaign leaders tend to adopt positions which if they are honest are done more to impress their supporters than anything else and will be subject to negotiations in the event of a Yes vote and the idea of and the potential for currency union will be discussed in a far more civilised way than is the case at present.
As for paying a higher fee to the BBC the idea is quite frankly ridiculous as no country outside the UK pays any licence fee to Auntie Beeb. Indeed last year Ireland bought its entire BBC package for £25 million. This is I am sure you will agree a lot less than £300 million that Scotland paid for our package as part of the United Kingdom.
You know my mother was always a great one for talking about practicalities as a way to put me off transitioning as a woman and would often ask what she thought were difficult questions in an attempt to dissuade me of what she considered my silly wee notion. Typical examples of this, were how would I fasten my suspender belt if I decided to wear stockings on a night out? Who would do my make up? and who would zip my dress? She totally ignored the fact that I was a lot more likely to wear tights than stockings as I always considered suspenders to be far too fidgety, and there was also the comfort issue and the fact that tights were far easier to put on than socks. Skirts were far easier to wear than trousers and didn’t come with complicated fastenings of some trousers or even some dresses.
As for doing my make up or getting my dress zipped, I told my mother in a diplomatic but firm manner I would still be getting my assistance from flatmate, the same flatmate who assisted me with other tasks such as my putting in my eye drops for glaucoma or zipping up any jacket I may have worn during all my previous winters. The fact at every turn I could answer the openly and honestly was something she did not seem to like and kept trying to shift the goalposts or make up new rules to suit herself. This however was not a smart move and was doomed to disaster from the start. Well if there is one thing people need to know it’s the fact that this kind of behaviour might actually lose you a lot more friends than you’ll gain and some people who you may have thought of as allies may now defect to the opposition because of your childish antics of putting up imaginary barriers which exist nowhere but the darkest corners of your mind.
However some people just refuse to learn that the world really isn’t all about them and have great if deluded belief in their own self importance. For these people, life is all about barriers, avoiding risks, and wondering what the neighbours will say on any given issue.
As for me I prefer to live my life in a different way, I enjoy making choices and I even enjoy taking risks if I believe the risk is worth taking. Not to vote yes for your own country’s independence is in my opinion complete and total madness and demonstrates not a national inferiority complex but a deeply personal one. As I say to those who doubt it we will make it as an independent country and I say this not only because of our natural resources but because being a bit cynical I realised many years ago that if we really were as poor as the unionists would like to tell us we are we would have been given independence years ago, whether we wanted it or not. To believe otherwise is an act of astonishing naivety. I also remind them that there are some decisions in life you cannot run away from, and the choice you make in this referendum is unquestionably one of them.
I politely but firmly inform them that the many of the questions facing Scotland at this time were the questions facing me six years ago, when after living as my true self at the weekends I would go to back to being this stranger that everyone thought they knew during the week. I would do this just to suit my family and co-workers. I would fit in to their world rather than cause them any upset. After all I didn’t want to rock the boat or did I? Maybe I thought to myself that the boat needed rocking. Maybe it was time for me to make waves and let the world see me the real me for who I actually was.
Fed up with having to continually compartmentalise my thoughts and feelings I realised this devolution of my life had gone as far as it could go. It was time for me to stake my claim for independence and go for it, and to hell with the consequences. I decided to vote yes to having a better life and set the 19th of December 2008 as my personal independence day. Yes it wasn’t always easy and though there were scaremongers who seemed to be far too concerned with the opinions of others, there were also some truly brilliant people who gave me a level of support beyond even my expectations.
So you see despite all the difficulties and challenges I faced, I survived and prospered. And you know what, if I can do it so can Scotland.
Hopefully my story can inspire those who are as yet undecided voters to put hope in place of fear, and believe that another Scotland – a better Scotland – is possible for the people of our country. What we decide now can and will have an impact for years to come, and I have to admit it does cause me very great alarm that so many unionists seem so blissfully unaware of the potential pitfalls of remaining part of a faded imperial union which has long since passed its sell by date.
Another matter of concern is the fact that it seems that unionists are very selective in telling us the good bits about the union. These as they perceive them are the monarchy, the BBC, and the pound. If however you ask about Trident, foodbanks, UKIP, or the House of Lords they don’t seem to be quite as proud of their beloved little union. Funny that, but I’ve got a rule for these people, you either accept of all of it, or vote yes. It really is time for people to put up or shut up.
You see no matter however hard they try to avoid it these people will have to take a decision. This is a decision which will have an impact not just on their short term economic prospects but will potentially impact on their children and grandchildren. This is why I would urge maximum caution before casting your vote as a vote against Alex Salmond and the SNP. This despite the fairytales you will hear from the sycophantic unionist press is not a vote on Mr Salmond, it is a vote on the future of Scotland. It is too important to risk our future prosperity based on your views on one man or his party. That decision can be left for another day, this one can’t – but it could well be the biggest one you may ever have to make.
When I realised my decision day had finally arrived I knew It was a case if I didn’t do it I never would, and I would go to my grave with regrets thinking only of what might have beens. So you know what, I went for it and whilst it has by no means been perfect it hasn’t been the nightmare some would have predicted. Indeed it has been far better than even I could have hoped for in how easy it has been once I got over the first three months or so.
Yes I have had to make sacrifices but I am in this for long haul. To illustrate this I have decided to quote lines from Caledonia. These words sum up my feelings on my personal journey and if we look back in a few years time I can truthfully they won’t be to far wide of the mark for Scotland either. “I’ve lost some friends I needed losing, gained others on the way”, and believe me the gains heavily outnumber the losses not only in terms of friendships but on the impact on my quality of life.
In every area of my life I believe I have seen some improvements with the possible exception of spending power, but hey we’re in the middle of a recession and the fact I’m a serial shopper doesn’t help the cause. However, from politics to poetry from friendships to faith I have gained far more than I’ve lost since declaring my personal independence.
I believe with the full political powers which only independence can bring, Scotland can do the same. And that is why as a woman and indeed a transwoman for independence I have shared what you could say is a very personal journey to destination yes.
Love and best wishes, Yours for Scotland