Oral History Interview - Finn Greig

 
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Oral History Interview - Finn Greig

Production date

28/7/2017

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Filmed oral history interview with Finn Greig, born in Hackney 1983. Finn started working as a LGBT youth worker at The Green Door, Hackney, when they were 23.

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[TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW]

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Q. Could you just start by telling me your name and when you were born and where you were born? [0:02]

FG. My name is Finn Greig and I was born and grew up in Hackney. I was actually born at Bart’s Hospital because I was born in 1983, which is two years or three years before Homerton was built. Otherwise, I probably would have been born at Homerton Hospital, but instead was born in Barts and grew up in Dalston.


Q. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up in Dalston? [0:31]

FG. It was average. You don’t really know what it’s like when you are a kid until you grow up and look back. We had a little park called De Beauvoir Square which is behind my house so we would just all, me and the neighbours and everyone, go around there.

I can remember endless days playing in De Beauvoir Square when I was a kid. I learnt to ride my bike around the circle. We had a football pitch on the curb, we didn’t think anything of it. There were two trees perfectly positioned at one end and two trees at the other but you had to run around the curbed bit on the outside to get to either end. So that’s how we grew up, just around there.


Q. You moved out of Hackney for a while? [1:22]

FG. Yeah, when I was about 19 I lived in Mexico for a year. I tried to go to Art School in Glasgow. I tried to do a degree but I didn’t really last, so I left there after around six months and came back.

I’ve lived in Walthamstow, it is my third time living in Walthamstow now. I lived there in my 20s twice, just renting flats. Now, I rent a flat down in Leyton near Bridge Road – I have been pushed out of Hackney, as most people have been with the costs. So I live down there.

Yeah, most of my life I have spent either living in Hackney, going to school in Hackney or socialising in Hackney - working in Hackney as well.


Q. What are the main ways in which Dalston or Hackney has changed? [2:12]

FG. I mean it is 2017 now, it is quite obvious in the changes to the aesthetic nature of Kingsland High Road. It used to feel like local shops with lots of amenities and that kind of stuff. Now it feels very much like trendy bars and restaurants and cafes and nightclubs. There were a few nightclubs but they weren’t the same clientele.

So I think with the cost and stuff, I’ve seen a lot of changes. The residential population has changed. Me and my sister have a bit of a joke, there is still a Monday to Thursday population who feel like who we grew up with you, we are just getting on with our lives. And then this other population swoops in at the weekends, sort of Friday through to Sunday doing all the bars and restaurants.

It feels like now that the cost of things and the cost of housing has gone up so much, it has pushed out quite a lot of the working class who have grown up here. The flats when you see them getting done over, when you see them getting done up, it sort of feels, yeah, it is just getting richer.

The schools are getting whiter. My mum has been a primary school teacher in Hackney for 30 years, she has seen the kind of kids changing in the schools. My stepdaughter goes to Colvestone which is at the top of Ridley Road market. The intake each year feels like the kind of moneyed side of things is coming up and coming in.

You know areas change I guess. I used to be a lot angrier about that in my 20s. I haven’t got the energy to be angry like that anymore.


Q. Was there any reasons why you felt angry about the changes? [4:13]

FG. I don’t know, I think change is an interesting thing isn’t it? It just felt a bit fast, unjust, swift. People used to say to me, ‘it’s so cool you are from Hackney,’ I am just from where I am from. People are just from where they are from. Then I realised it was seen as a cool thing to be living somewhere kind of more on the edge, a bit poorer, a bit whatever. I just kind of felt like there was a lot of people coming in quite quickly changing the businesses, changing the clientele.

I used to work at a pub when I was 18 called the Trolley Stop which was at the end of my street, just off Dalston. There’s an Oxfam across the road, and then the Scooter Den shop on the corner of Stamford Road and Kingsland Road, and there was a pub just in there called the Trolley Stop.

I was just like 18 and friends of all the old boys would come in and tell me about the area and about their lives a bit. There was one guy who was a boxer. He used to box down in Hoxton with some people that were involved with the Kray’s. He used to tell me all this stuff, which was kind of how it was.

I was only 18 then. That’s now flats, that pub. And, I think quite a lot of things are inaccessible to the people that used to live in Hackney. You’ve got things like the gentrification of housing estates and all that kind of stuff. But it happens all over London, and all over the UK, really.


Q. When you were younger, to what extent were you aware of people that identified as LGBTQI+? [6:14]

FG. I wasn’t aware of anyone locally I think. I just remember growing up I identified as queer and a trans-person and I remember growing up thinking it was just me. It was quite isolated. That was the 1980s and the early 1990s. It wasn’t really in my immediate circle of family or friends. My parents’ friends, none of them that I can remember were LGBQT+, so I just didn’t think it was a thing. When I hit my teens, I started to see it on television a bit.

I remember knowing I was queer when I was really young because it was kind of like ‘I am different because I feel like a boy’. When I was four (three or four or five years old) I felt like why is everyone telling me that I am a girl? There was a lot of that going on in my head when I was really young.

As I got a bit older in my teens I saw a bit of it on telly. Ellen was on telly, the show not the chat show, the one where she was in a drama. I remember this big hype to her coming out. I was probably 14 or 15 when she was going to come out on telly. And I remember being really excited to see that episode, I really wanted to see that episode.

Again as a teen, I remember seeing people in Hackney who I was reading as maybe lesbians or dykes, I remember seeing that a little bit on the streets. It was all going on in the 1980s and 1990s of course, but I think when you are a kid you are not connected to that, unless you have got a family who bring LGBT people into your life, you are not necessarily seeing it.

As I hit mid-teens I knew what the rainbow flag meant. So when I was up in Stoke Newington (which I think was visually more open, had rainbows going on) I remember thinking ‘Oh, it’s a lesbian pub,’ or a rainbow pub. I remember there was a gay bar on Essex Road, just past the border of Islington and Hackney. I remember when I was 17 getting snuck in there or something. Thinking ‘Wow,’ it’s not a pub anymore.

I don’t think it was that obvious until I was in my late teens, when I knew where places were and friendlier venues were. It definitely wasn’t in my education. It wasn’t spoken about in school, even though it could have been I suppose. The history was here and the context was here. It was not until my late teens that I could see and knew what was going on.


Q. Do you have any similar things you remember about any representations of people who identified as trans? [9:19]

FG. Nothing about trans people. The first time I knew, apart from some drag stuff, some real stereotypical outlet drag queen stuff…I remember somehow I knew about it before I hit my late teens but I don’t know how.

When I was 19 I went up to Scotland to study at art school and a couple of months into art school. This woman I was friends with in my halls, she said to me ‘Have you heard of drag kings?’ I said ‘What you are talking about?’. She said ‘It’s this thing were women dress up as men.’ And I said ‘Oh, like drag queens, but drag kings. Oh, ok’. That was probably the first time I had heard that was even possible.

I went to this weekend course where women were invited to go with men’s clothes, you had to go in men’s clothes, and learn how to be a drag king. So I went along to this thing. I remember being quite uncomfortable there, thinking ‘I am just bringing my normal clothes, because these are the clothes I wear.’ I don’t think I had to be over masculine, over macho or butch. A lot of the women were doing uber masculinity in the same way that drag queens are over the top feminised.

So I just remember feeling quite uncomfortable the whole weekend. But there was a guy there doing the make-up. He was helping people put on fake beards, doing make-up so they could look more rough or masculine. He was a trans guy, and he said to me as I left the course on the Sunday evening, he said, ‘Have you heard of FTMnetwork.org?’ And I was like ‘What are you talking about?’ I remember he said this website address to me - this was nearly 14 years ago, the internet was super minimal and slow. He said to me ‘Check it out.’

So I went off. It just rang in my head everyday but I didn’t get the guts really to look online until about two weeks after when I was in my university library. There wasn’t even google. I typed in the url and it slowly loaded. I remember reading this page about men who were assigned female at birth, born female, talking about their lives and how they felt growing up …

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FG. … and also then talking about their transitions to men. I just thought someone had written my life on the screen. Someone has written about me and it just all rang true. How they felt when they were little. So that was the first I had really heard about it. That was when I was 19.

Then I went to live in Mexico for a year when I was 20. I left art school and went off to Mexico and lived in Mexico for a year. Then I came back and had a good year or so to think about it, and I thought ‘Yeah, I think this is right for me.’

So I found a group in Camden at the time, I think it is still there called FTM London. I went in there and I was 21. I walked in the door and everyone was minimum 20 years older than me if not more, sort of 40-50s. I remember thinking ‘This still feels right to me, but these people, I don’t know if I will get them or they will get me.’ So I did like a few months going there and getting support. I met some people there who I ended up setting up Gendered Intelligence, Jay Stewart, who was the chair of FTM London at the time. But it wasn’t until then that I was starting to think about my own identity as a trans person, and not even until then that I knew it was even possible.

When I was a younger teen it felt like I wasn’t a woman. But I felt like there wasn’t another option; that I had to be a woman. So I was trying to do that in the way that I could. But I was quite unhappy and isolated with that.


Q. You mentioned Stoke Newington seemed to be ‘more rainbows’, as you put it. Why do you think that is the case? [1:40]

FG. I don’t know, there was a few pubs on Stoke Newington High Street that had rainbows in the windows. But I can’t remember the names of them now except maybe the Yucatan Bar, I think it was. There was a lesbian bar as you turn right on Cazenove Road. I just remember, and it is kind of interesting because now I am in my 30s, I know from people that there were a lot more lesbian households and lesbian squats and stuff in Stoke Newington. So I don’t know why I had that sense, maybe there was just one bar with one rainbow and it just sticks in my head as the gayest area or the queerest area.

When I started going out when I was 17 or 18 I often went to Soho because I think it is probably a bit of a beacon. You know it is going to be very gay, and you know it is going to be a bit safer with regards to the amount of people who congregate there that are not heteronormative outside. Even if you are going up to Stoke Newington, you would be seen going into that one bar. If you go to Soho you are lost.

I think it has totally changed now. I love it. Society is so much queerer. There is a lot of people who might not even be queer, but you know fashion’s changed, everything has changed. I sort of feel quite young. Other times the younger people I work with now who are in their teens have difficult situations in their lives, of course they do. But if you moved to Dalston now in 2017 you can be absolutely anyone.

I think back then I was still hyper aware of being masculine, butch. I got bullied big time when I was in secondary school for being in the wrong toilets. I still felt quite tense, embarrassed. I felt quite seen, visual when I was out in the streets. Where I think a young butch woman these days would still have some rubbish thrown at them but they wouldn’t be as visually a target.


Q. You mentioned a place on Essex Road. What was it like? [4:26]

FG. It was tiny. (It was called the Q Bar…? I can’t remember what it was called) It was really small and you went in, there were three little sofas on the left, a couple of chairs and tables on the right and then you walked in and the bar was along the back. It was mostly women I think. A lot of different ages.

One of the things when you go to a lesbian bar I remember, the spread of ages. I suppose there is only a few places to go, so everyone goes there. I remember meeting a lot of older women in my late teens just thinking back then. Yeah, can’t remember what it was called.


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Q. How did you find out about places to go? [0:03]

FG. I was friends with a few people. I dropped out of school when I was about 16 and started doing this youth project, in the Tate Modern of all places. I remember I used to go to the Tate Modern and get a bus on my road down that way and say I was leaving to go to school, and I would take a bus in the opposite direction and go down there, bunk basically.

There was this youth project happening at the time where you could be a young person helping to create art workshops for other young people. So I managed to stumble across that and get involved in that.

There were few young people about my age who were involved in that and there were two one them especially who are a bit older than me, I think a year older, which was the crucial difference at that time. When you are 17 and they are 18, she knew some of the places to go in Soho and so we used to go out together when we were like 17, 18, 19. We were quite friendly around that project at the Tate Modern, and there was a group of us that became really good friends. We used to go out down there really, around Soho. And I think we ended up in that place at Essex Road, I don’t remember how I knew.

I’ll tell you where I used to go in Hackney. I used to go to the Oak Bar on Green Lanes. It’s attempting to be this sort of posh gastropub kind of thing but it was open for a long time. I remember going there in my late teens - early 20s. It was along Green Lanes from Newington Green, on the left.

This old woman ran it. It was just full of mostly dykes and lesbians I think. It was still going until about maybe eight years ago when it closed downed or changed hands, maybe six years ago. So we used to go there.

I worked in the Duke of Wellington which is another pub on Culford Rd just off Balls Pond Road. It was not a gay pub as such, but there was two women who ran it and I think they had a lot of gay clientele as a result. That was when I had come back from Mexico I think, I was 21-22.

I can’t remember about how I found out about places, it was just that you were going to that place because you knew. A lot has happened since then, it feels like another lifetime ago.


Q. As somebody who identifies as trans, have you felt welcomed by the wider LGBTQI+ community? [3:01]

FG. At first, not so much. At first there was a lot more tension around trans people and some lesbian and gay people. I think there still is a little bit. I basically live most of my life in a bit of a trans bubble or queer bubble, maybe. Like, a bubble of my immediate family who accept me for who I am, and then a whole group of friends who are trans, or who are queer. I’ve got some really good school friends who are totally supportive. So I don’t have a lot of need in my life to cross over into bigotry, which is quite nice.

I work for a trans organisation. Most of my life has been working with young trans people and non-binary people. Then I go home and go to sleep. I don’t go out anymore. I don’t really identify with places like Soho anymore, that doesn’t call me to go there.


Q. What did the FTM group in Camden do? What did they provide? [4:25]

FG. Just a safe space for trans masculine people. At the time we were calling ourselves transmen. I would identify much more as trans-masculine person now. It was just a space for people to get some information, there was a lot of information. One of the guys used to wheel in a suitcase every month and put down a table of books and leaflets and brochures and stuff. So there was a lot of information there about what to do, how to change legal documents, how the NHS system worked at the time. Then there was books like some trans guys who had written their autobiographies, so they had their books. I think you could borrow them or flick through them.

Sometimes there was a guest speaker, or sometimes there was just a topic like a theme for the evening which might have been about how you cope with your family or how you come out to friends, whatever the themes were.

We used to just sit in small groups and then feedback as a whole group. It was just being there listening to guys who had been through a bit more of the journey then I was at the time. Being able to just talk to a few people who got it. Sometimes, guys would come down and say ‘I have just had surgery’ and show you their chest so you could see the difference, or see what was possible, or see scars. Other times people would come and talk about different types of hormone uses.

It was just a self-led support group really.


Q. You worked for a youth group. Can you tell me more about that? [6:17]

FG. I was doing these workshops initially with Jay and Katherine in schools. I think we ended up doing one at Hackney Town Hall, we did a workshop. There was this women there who had just started running the LGBT youth club in Hackney which was around the back of the town hall. She came to one of my workshops. At the end of it she said ‘That was great, you led this workshop, it was really engaging, it’s really great. What do you do?’ I was saying I do quite a few things for young people. At the time, I was doing the Tate Modern and then these workshops in schools. I was only about 22-23.

And she said ‘well there is a job going at the LGBT youth club’. I was like, I don’t have any qualifications. She said ‘I will give you a ring’. I think they wanted a part time youth worker to work in the LGBT youth club. So I started there when I was 23 and they said you can study an NVQ level 2 at the time to get a qualification in youth work while you are working. So that was great.

So I started working as an LGBT youth worker when I was 23 in Hackney. Then it was quite funny, because after about less than a year she left because she was only seconded in for a year from a health clinic somewhere. And they said to me ‘Oh Finn, can you run the youth club for a bit?’ I’ve not even got a level 2! ‘What we will do is have you as acting manager and will put the job out.’

So I started as acting manager on a level 2 qualification when I was 24 years old, and sort of started running this place basically. They put the job out and they said ‘Are you going to apply?’ and I said I am not qualified to apply. You need JNC, youth worker qualification, JNC level 6 for people to run a youth club, to be managers. And they are like, ‘Well, we will put it out there but it would be great if you could apply’. I applied, and apparently I was the only person who applied and because I had been running it for a year I knew the ins and outs of it. It was brilliant, a bit of a baptism by fire. I was stressed the whole time which I didn’t realise at the time, not until I left.

But my line manager was brilliant, she was a real believer in the LGBT work we were doing in the borough. She would go to extra lengths to help me run it basically. But it was quite tiring, I put a lot into that club. I really cared about the young people coming and I tried to make the most of it while I was there. But I didn’t really have the support, there wasn’t enough staff. I didn’t know what I was doing really, I thought I did at the time but I didn’t. So I sort of burnt out really.

At the same time we were setting up a trans night. I was connected to all the LGBT workers across London, and there was a few youth clubs at the time. We used to do a joint night, once a month we did an exchange night with the Walthamstow LGBT youth club. Good friend of mine called Karen Algacs who was running that, her and I connected up at some event. Once a month we would go to their club and I would bring all my young people there, and once a month she would come over to the Green Door, but all the kids agreed that we had the better club because we had this whole building, it was great.

We had this big hall and it had a stage at one end, a kitchen at the other with a hatch so we used to do dinner for everyone every night. We used to go to Tescos on Monday, across the road. I got 25 quid a week from Hackney Youth Service to buy all the food and refreshments I needed for the week. We used to buy bulk bags of rice and pasta and a few tins of tomatoes and other vegetables and we used to make really cheap big meals for everyone.

We would put all the trestle tables down the middle of the hall so we had big dinners on Tuesday and Thursday night. So when all the kids came to us from Walthamstow they thought this is great. Because they just had a side room in some council building once a week. They would put their posters up have a two hour session and then they had to take everything down and leave again.

Whereas we had our whole building so we had permanent posters up on the wall. The young people’s art work was on the walls. We had a library section, around the corner from the hall there was this corner of book shelves, bean bags and sofas. It was fantastic. I look back now and none of that is in any youth club now, that kind of level of resources.

We had a side room where we had the sexual health worker. He wasn’t 100% supposed to be there the amount of time he was, but he was quite senior in his post and he was a gay guy, and he just thought it was really good that we were doing this LGBT youth space. So out of the quota of 1-2-1s that he needed to do across his whole roll he managed to do quite a lot of them at the youth club. He was really lovely, he just used to come to the youth club and be with us as a worker and he would do a lot of sexual health, 1-2-1s, all the kind of advice he could give as a sexual health worker, which was brilliant. So he used to just be in there.
So that was the Green Door Youth Club in Hackney. It was our own building that was where my office was, so in the day time I just went in and worked inside the youth club and organised things. We had parties there …


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FG. … for all the LGBT youth clubs around London. We had one come from Clapham, one come from Walthamstow, and the other one came down from Brent and everyone came together. Me and all the other youth workers ended up having to do YMCA on the stage, total cliché but it was great. We had enough resources to keep that going.

Then we started a trans night because all those other youth workers were sending their young trans workers to me basically. ‘Oh, there is a trans youth worker running this club in Hackney.’

So all these kids used to travel across the whole of London to get to trans night at the Green Door. It was really, really important to them at the time and still is, young trans people getting together. Working for Gendered Intelligence now we do 5-7 youth clubs across the country every month. The numbers are massive because as trans person you are not necessarily living locally to another trans person. So to come together and meet is really important. So we used to get these young trans people coming together.

I said we need to set up another night, a trans exclusive night. Some people have a girl’s night, a women’s night, so I said to my line manager ‘can we do an extra evening?’ He said ‘we have got limited capacity.’ I said ‘well if I club together with this guy Jay (who was setting up this organisation) and we did like a partnership?’ So we set up a service level agreement and we opened on a Wednesday night just for young trans people. So he would come over and me and him would run this youth club space inside the Green Door for young trans people to come to and it went like that for a while, for 6-8 months.

Then we realised we could do it with slightly less stress, and the Hackney Youth Service was under pressure to change and cut back. So we set up Gendered Intelligence off the back of that.


Q. Can you tell me a bit about Gendered Intelligence? [1:55]

FG. Gendered Intelligence is nearly 10 years old, we started in 2008. We have grown from really small grass roots, small organisation doing a bit of training and youth work, to I think we have got over £200,000 turnover at the moment.

We do a lot of training around the country. Big organisations like The FA [Football Association], Tesco and other companies and people have got us in to do their trans awareness training.

I am the head of the youth work service at the moment. We have five groups in London, a group in Stevenage, a group in Bristol and Leeds now. So we do monthly groups.

In London we do Under 16s, 16-20, we do a group for ‘Blackcation’ - minority ethnic trans youth people. We do family space, so we have families and siblings coming. We do Saturday ‘community sessions’ we call them, with anyone up to 25.

We have got an 18-30 group, because we have this cohort of young people who I started working with a decade ago who are now too old to come to the youth club and they are really upset. So I help them run it, and they set up an 18-30 space. When they were hitting 25, which is our cut off age range, they were going to enter the adult world, but still having a lot of the trans issues that people will continue to have for a while: isolation, and lack of support, lack of understanding. So coming together was really important to them. But having a space where people can come together that is safe, facilitated, gets you, has a good connection to the building so that the toilets are gender neutral, that kind of stuff…That is really rare. So we set this up at the beginning of 2017, so that has been going since January.

And then we have got a group in Stevenage, ‘cos Hertfordshire Youth Camps or Hertfordshire Youth Organisation wanted us to help them to run a trans group. They‘ve commissioned us to set up a group in a different area of Hertfordshire every so often. I think we are going to start a new one in January in St Albans, we have got one going in Stevenage, and eventually they are going to take them on and carry on running them. We had workers and connections with places in Bristol and Leeds, so we set up a night in Bristol and Leeds about two and half years ago and they are going strong. So we get about 15-20 young people turning up to each of those groups, they are just monthly.

We do trips, we do camping residentials. We started taking young trans people camping in 2010. We had eight young people in 2010, me and three volunteers. And now we have got 80 young people, two trips, 40 on each and 12 youth workers on each trip. All the youth workers get training and then they get safeguarding introductions and all that, and all the young people come together for prep day. And we have got young people coming from all over the country.

This year we have had people inquiring from abroad. We had someone from the Czech Republic apply, someone from South Africa, someone from Canada and someone from Iran as well. So that is quite amazing.

Next year we are going to be 10 years old. We are going to do a few celebration events and a ‘Big Super Camp’ we are going to call it. It’s going to be a bit like a youth festival. We are going to do an under-18 year-olds camping trip like a proper youth group residential, and coordinate a festival with 18-25 year olds for a few days somewhere. I am organising that at the moment.


Q. Why do you think it is so important that youth services are available for LGBTQI+ young people? [5:54]

FG. Young people are like friends with each other, you go to school and stuck by where you live. You are stuck with the people you go to school with, so for a lot of people finding common ground is really important. It might be your favourite music style, or fashion sense or something to do with your background, your culture etc. You group together a little bit.

Your teenage-hood forms your own identity and form a sense of self and feel validated in who you are. LGBT don’t really have that automatic connection in a school, unless I think it is changing just around now. I did some work with some young people who say ‘There is me and seven other LGBT people that are out at school,’ and they might be 14-15. Whereas until recently, and still in some places, you think you are the only LGBTQ+ person in that school because people are still afraid to come out and identify themselves.

When you are teenager and you know who you are, but you can’t necessarily talk openly about it in your school setting (which is by default your social environment)…finding a youth club space that is safe to go to where there is some older adults who get you and who can have a conversation with you about who you are and who you know yourself to be and who you want to become and also some peers, a peer group who is going through similar things to you…It is a lifeline for a lot of young people.

I lot of young people talk to me today, still, and say in 2017, ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for GI’s youth club space.’ And I know they wouldn’t be here because I have lived with them through their suicide attempts or self-harm that takes itself to extreme.

I have had phone calls in the middle of the night from parents, messages from parents in the morning messaging me in the middle of the night, saying ‘we are a bit worried’ or ‘this is happening’.

I have been to hospital with young people who have attempted suicide. Or I have visited young people I have worked with because we know they have attempted suicide. So you are still very isolated when you are a teen now as an LGBTQ+ teen in school.

I think there is recent reports about trans young people being how things used to be for LGB young people. I think being LGB is a bit more socially supported now, but being trans there is still a lot of scope for being discriminated against. People just aren’t getting it, adults and peers. So when you come out as trans you might be quite confident in yourself, and your family might be great, but just being out in school just opens you up to a whole lot of stuff.

So young people coming together at GI at the moment it seems like a really important time for people to be making friends and connecting and forming a generation. I am seeing a generation from now that will be in five, 10, 20 years’ time will be in the work force, getting on with regular lives because they managed to form solidarity as teens now.

And they connect with each other. They are always on social media when they go home. So they will go back to their neighbourhoods, schools, and families but will always have each other because they met at GI or any youth group. It is still really important.


Q. Beyond your youth work, have you personally been involved in activism? [9:56]

FG. Yep. On various levels. I used to volunteer for LGBT History Month and Schools Out and I have done my own kind of campaigning with any cause that happens outside parliament with my placard. I have done quite a bit when I was younger, early to mid 20s.

It is interesting because it is my job, but I call youth work activism. I think it is the best place I can do activism. I think creating spaces for young people full stop is political, it is an act in itself. Fighting for money that creates resources for young people together. Doing youth work well so that young people want to come back, so that more funding can be found for that youth club space to work is crucial. And also just youth work in general.

Being an older trans person with a younger trans person, and being able to have that interaction and that kind of space to grow a relationship where their parent probably isn’t trans. You have this thing in society that you learn from your elders. Well, if your elders don’t have anything in common with you for one of the most important things in your life, what your gender is and who you are going to become, then you need to find other adults that you can have those conversations with. That can help you feel good about yourself and be validated.

We work with young people whose parents are brilliant, but we also work with a lot of young people [whose parents] are not brilliant about their trans identity, as you can imagine. Or just don’t get it. So they can’t give them any information, or they find it too threatening to have the conversation with the young person about who they are.

And so to come to …

2017.129e
FG. …a space where they can meet adults who have been trained, who are youth workers, you have been through that experience, is crucial. So I call my youth work my activism now.

And when I choose to come out and how I choose to come out, ‘cos I suppose I have got the privilege to be able to choose now. Most trans people can’t choose to come out or not, because they are visibly seen to be something other than what some people in society call ‘a man’, or call ‘a woman’, or call someone. So I come out at different times.

I do some of the trainings within GI. So, I can go into schools, other training spaces and talk to other adults about their concept of gender, and their concept of working with children in schools, and working with trans people in schools or youth clubs.

I have done a lot of teacher training which is great ‘cos you are getting teachers, a group of people who are going to be teachers. And you have a room full of 30 people who about to become teachers, and work for hopefully for many years in the teaching field, who are going to impact on so many young people’s lives and children’s lives. And to get them at that point and say, ‘Let’s have a think about gender’ and they go, ‘Yeah, it is not as straight forward as we thought…’

I think that in itself is a form of activism that is really rich and really successful, because people come along with you. I think sometimes activism can be alienating to the people that it is against. It can look quite aggressive. I don’t have an issue with aggressive activism, because I think we need all forms of activism to help bring things along.
I just know that when I go to protests I get scared. I feel weak, I feel vulnerable. I feel like if I was stopped by the police they wouldn’t understand my body, and I would get some kind of maltreatment. I also feel like with a lot of cis-gendered men in protest scenarios, whether they are your side of not, I have seen things escalate to a level of physicality that I am not comfortable with, and that sends me into my own panic state.

I have been to anti-fascists protest which I truly believe in. But as soon as it starts to be a bit tricky, I know myself, I know I have to get out. Because I’ll feel worried, and scared, and that kind of violence for me doesn’t work.

So I’ve gotten further away from physical or violent, visual street protests over the last decade, and more into ‘What can I say?’ ‘What can I tweet?’ What can I make an image of, or what spaces can I create for young people? Also, what kind of conversation can I facilitate across a room of 10, or 20, or 30, or 40 young people, that means that their ideas are generating and developing for themselves? The more that we become strong as a community, the more that they can then individually impact in their lives. And that ripples out doesn’t it?

I think that is how I do my activism now.


Q. What kind of major milestones have you seen that have impacted the lives of the young people you work with? [3:28]
FG. Major milestones that I can remember?

I think for its ups and its downs (and it has many), The Equality Act 2010 has done young people a service that they might not even realise is happening, because it has definitely enabled Gendered Intelligence to do work in schools. Since 2010 we’ve been using the protected characteristic of gender reassignment in the Equalities Act to tell teachers, and tell school bodies, and tell the government really as well (we have been doing a bit of lobbying and campaigning), that trans young people need to be better cared for and better included in schools.

As far as the law goes, the 2010 Equality Act has meant that public services have an obligation and a duty to be protecting and including trans people. It doesn’t include all trans people. I will kind of make a point of saying that ‘cos it is non-binary inclusive. It’s not inclusive of people who are seeking asylum in this country either. So it has got some flaws and some holes in it.

Also, it is an act that you have to be slightly enabled in life to know that you have access or to know that it exists. So if you are a youth worker, you can tell a young person that this exists and they can go have a conversation with allies in schools, and bring in a leaflet so at least someone reads it. If you are someone who is less enabled, less advantaged, who’s got less access to public recourses, then it is probably not going to help you. But I think it has shifted a lot of social thinking, especially public sector bodies, government, local government, local authority, schools, the health service a little bit. The police force has changed a bit.


2017.129f
Q. So you were talking about the Gender Equality Act [0:02]

FG. My friends at the time, 2009-2010, were talking about the…(is it white papers or green papers before it gets put into law?) and what that was saying, and what it would mean for us. I was trying to find out as much info as I could about what it would mean. I remember one of my friends, really good friend, really lovely and respect her still, trans women, saying if they try and pass it I am going to chain myself to the outsides of Parliament. And I was like I’ll come with you. I’ll definitely come with you.

I remember understanding the things that were going to be not the best. Even the protected characteristic being called gender reassignment, it is quite binary terminology when we look back now only seven years later. It seems old-fashioned now, seven years. At the time it still was, it was getting to be a bit old-fashioned.

But I remember people saying we need to pass something, because I think we knew the government was going to change as well. We had that feeling that things were going to get worse, that things were going to get more right wing. That if the Tories did get in then we wouldn’t have any chance of getting any rights.

Some of my friends and people talking at the time, saying we need this to happen because we need something, and then afterwards we can work with the flaws and we can try and improve it. And then there was other people saying, no we don’t want anything that is mediocre because it will never change.

I remember being a bit torn ‘cos I was still young and a bit naive. I remember just trying to absorb as much of the discussion as I could at the time, but now seven and half years later I think it was a starting point. We have to keep fighting for better laws and better discussions.

There was a discussion just this week about - believe it or not - the Tory government, trying to change things so you don’t have to get a doctor to sign off on whether you are changing your gender identity or not. And it doesn’t have to be this drawn out two year process. Which I think yeah, about time! So you can self-identify and change your gender. It is a massive social discussion this week that I am trying to keep up with. I think that’s fascinating.

Socially, away from the law, is the internet. Like pure and simple. When I was 18 I got my first mobile phone and it was an old Nokia brick with snake on it, that’s all I remember. You were very conscious of how many texts you sent in a month, because you knew what your data or allowance was. It wasn’t even called data, there wasn’t data. What your allowance was. You knew how many you had left, and how your parents were paying for your bill, and if they found out it was over, you would get in trouble.

Having to get a job when I was – well, I had a job since I was 16. But then my mum was saying when I was 18 how often she worked out what the mobile phone was, ‘I have been paying for this’. I thought it was a couple of quid a month. Because we got top-up cards at the time. She said ‘enough of that, you can pay for it yourself’. You were very conscious of what was going on your mobile.

There were no smartphones. So smartphones, and the internet, and being able to connect with people at all hours of the day and night, has totally changed society. And mostly for the better for young trans people, because they are connecting across the country.

When we take our young people camping every summer, young people come from all over the UK to go camping. Last year, both camps they set up a WhatsApp chat group, and they are still friends on that group. Are still talking to people who live in Newcastle, or Cornwall, or wherever. It’s their community. Their community is not their neighbourhood, because they don’t always feel safe in their neighbourhood. Their community is this online connected group, and it is free. So it is accessible on loads of levels.

I remember being told off as a teenager for phoning my friend for too long because it was my mum and dad’s phone. I remember ‘Are you still on the phone?’ And I was like ‘Yeah, ‘cos I am not coming down to talk to you’. Bless them, my mum and dad are alright. But at the time you don’t want to talk to them.

The fact that young people can be in groups online at any time they need to be. I know for a fact it has saved people’s lives. People in the middle of the night who call our safeguarding leads because they have seen on Facebook that someone else is attempting suicide, or posting that they might. Our safeguarding worker will phone a parent, and that parent is downstairs and the kid is upstairs, but doesn’t know, and the parent goes upstairs and they can save things. Or young people who are a bit older, they can go around to that person’s house and check, or they know someone who lives nearer. Because they are online with each other.

So I think legally the 2010 thing has changed things. Socially, through ways to connect in immediate circumstances and link up with people, online is brilliant.


Q. At what point did you realise that you were queer, or trans, or non-heteronominative? [5:21]

FG. I suppose there is realising who you are, and being a bit like ‘this is different to everyone else’, versus knowing that there is language for it, and knowing there are identities that people share with you. I was three or four years old, and I was like ‘I am not a girl. What is going on?’

I remember my mum told me a funny story. Her cousin was living with us when I was little, and mum and dad were at work and she was looking after us. I was playing with toy cars, happy as anything, four years old, getting on with the game and my dad came home. (When I came out to my mum’s cousin in my early 20s, she said, ‘oh I remember this happened’. I don’t remember it myself.) She said my dad got home and he sat down near where I was playing. He looked at me and said ‘you don’t really like being a girl very much do you?’ Apparently, I jumped up really angry and head butted him in the stomach, and started hitting him. And said, ‘Dad, I am not a girl, I am not a girl.’ And he said sorry.

She told me that story when I was in my early 20s, and I don’t remember that incident.

I remember being four at nursery and being quite sure that I was a boy. Or at least I felt more akin to the boys in the room and the games the boys would play, versus what the girls were doing. I remember being a bit baffled for most of my childhood. I have talked to my mum about it, and she said ‘You did have this bamboozled look on your face most of your childhood. You just kind of looked at everything and observed and you were quite quiet’. Which is funny now, can you imagine I was a quiet kid? I was super quiet.

‘You used to be really quiet. I would go and pick you up from nursery, and I would say to the nursery teacher, ‘How did Finn get on today?’ And apparently the nursery teacher would say ‘Absolutely perfect, because anytime we suggested Finn did painting, Finn just came over and did painting. And anytime we suggested he play in this area, he did that.’’

I remember I was quiet passive but I remember thinking ‘What is going on?’ the whole time. I remember being really observant, and just looking at the whole situation. I look back with adult eyes, and I think it is probably me going, well, that’s those people who feel comfortable being girls, and those people who feel alright are not really thinking about it too much, being boys. But I didn’t feel alright necessarily being either. I was like, ‘Why is everyone telling me I am a girl?’ And that was definitely very strong, preschool, nursery, maybe reception, Year One.

I had a friend at the time who was a tomboy. I hate that phrase, but she was a more boyish, masculine girl. We were really best mates, and it was because I think looking back we found each other, we found our people. You know we were both queer, and later it has turned out she is a lesbian. So we found each other, and we were basically doing our own queer childhood. We used to play at each other’s house every Friday, so she would be at mine one week and I would be at hers.

I remember we used to play these games where it was not questioned at all that we were boys. You know, we were children, and we didn’t have to justify it to anyone, so we just played as boys. We had our boy names, and we were boys, and that was it.

Then I got to be a bit older, like end of primary, and thought ‘Oh actually, you know, this is something I have to justify. This is something I have to feel weird about’. You know, I was being told by the world that that wasn’t usual or normal, and sort of feeling quite worried and anxious about it. Then I got really, really anxious.
I remember being about six or seven or eight and had that story Aladdin, and the whole idea that there is a genie’s lamp, and you can get three wishes. So every night I used to go to bed I’d imagine I would wake up and have a genie lamp and have three wishes. One of them was that I would be the best footballer in the world. I had all the best footballers at the time all rolled in to one, and I would be as good as them. Then, that the girl that I really liked in the year above me would feel the same. And that I’d wake up as a boy. Basically, they were my three wishes every night.
I’d go to be bed, and be like ‘Please let me wake up with a genie’s lamp so I can have these wishes’. To be honest, the first two wouldn’t have mattered so much. But I remember going to bed and wishing as hard as I could that I would wake up a boy. It would all have just come away, and it would all just be a bad dream. That was just a really strong feeling until I hit my teens.
I didn’t know it was possible, so I thought I had to be a lesbian. I thought that was because I was interested in girls, and I knew I was interested in girls since I was eight or nine years old, consciously knew... So I thought I have to be a lesbian. And I had a lot of self-hatred and pain around that ‘cos it didn’t feel right either. Now I look back at that and I think that was because of sexism and homophobia. I think it would’ve have been easier to be feeling like a lesbian for a while if the world hadn’t been so patriarchal and so homophobic.

When I hit my late teens I worked out that stuff that you can be a trans man. I thought ‘that is right for me’.
Now I am 33 and I think I don’t identify as a man anymore. I identify first and foremost as a trans person. If I was a teenager now, with a lot of the teens I am working with, I would probably be out there on the forefront of non-binary stuff, and getting rid of gender stuff, and doing all of that. ‘Cos that is where I was a really passionate feminist, still am. I was doing a lot of hatred of men, obviously cis men. I was doing quite a lot of hatred of patriarchy and I still do but I do it in…


2017.129g
FG. …youth work ways now.

I think I would probably be doing, probably masculinity still, because that is what calls me most, or what I connect to the most. But I would be doing it not necessarily with hormones, or with transition. So we are just products of our time really aren’t we?


Q. Would there be anything you describe as ‘coming out’ in that time period you identified as lesbian? Or as queer, or trans? Was that a single instance or a process? [0:22]

FG. That is always ongoing. As I like to tell some of my friends sometimes, I have come out three times. I came out as a lesbian, I came out as a trans mans, and now I come out as queer and not as a man.

I was 13 at school, and this play came into my school called ‘Free Willy.’ It was an all-girls school, and they brought this play in, and it was about a gay kid who had these two friends. One of their friends supported him, and one of the friends was really homophobic. It was one of those theatre in education plays where they do a workshop afterwards and open it up to the floor for Q & A.

When we went into the hall it was like a revolution had happened. The chairs were in a circle, well they were in a square, but they were around the stage. I was like, what is going on? We are not all in rows looking at the front. We were like, wow, it was already exciting. And when we got to our chairs, on each chair there was a postcard for the lesbian and gay switchboard, which it was called at the time. And also another flyer for some other LGBT thing (I think it was just LGB or LG at the time), and then a postcard about the play.

So there was this collection of resources on each chair, and it was an incredible tactical strategy because I still do it to this day. If I do an assembly with a group of year 10s or whoever, I ask the teachers to help me in the morning to put my business card with my email address, phone number on each chair. So there is no identifying yourself at the end. ‘Anyone want any more information? Come out to all your friends as the queer person because I am going to give you a card’. I try now to bring the resources to put one on every single chair because it harks back to then when I was 13.

So on my chair there were these three postcards. I visually captured what they were before I sat on them. Most people were like ‘Eww, what is this? Lesbian?’ So everyone sat on their postcards, or fling them off the chair, or whatever. I remember trying to carefully sit on mine, so it didn’t look like I was going to do anything with them. I spent the entire play working out how I would get my postcard from under my ass into my pocket so I could have the phone number. And I managed it. Somehow, I managed to take the postcards subtly into my pocket.

I felt like the entire time the play was on that there was a massive neon arrow pointing down at my head, saying this is the queer person. I felt like everyone was like laughing at me when they laughed at the bits in the play. It was really amazing, but also scary, but also lifesaving.

Because then that night, as scared as I was, I called the lesbian and gay switchboard. It took me about 45 minutes to say anything on the telephone. I remember the person on the phone just being really patient, saying ‘It’s alright, you just take your time’. And I did. I took, like, 45 minutes. My palm was sweating, and the phone was dropping out of my hand because I was so scared. Then I said, ‘I think I might be a lesbian.’ They said do you want to talk about how you know, or how it feels? I remember having this conversation with them. That was really scary.

Then I was nearly 14. I remember my best friend when I was 14, she was really great. She had this slightly homophobic thing of saying, ‘You don’t fancy me, to do?’ ‘No, no. You are my best friend,’ and then it was fine. She was just great. She would talk to me about who I liked and how. She’s straight, she is still one of my best friends. So I was kind of 13, 14 when I started reaching out, told a couple of friends when I was 14.

By the time I was 16 I was known as the lesbian in the school. Massive activist. I had written in year 10, we had to write this essay about Hamlet and I was like that is so boring. So I wrote this newspaper about …

2017.129h
Q. So you were telling me about the newspapers. [0:03]

FG. Do you know section 28?


Q. Can you explain it? [0:11]
FG. Section 28 was around in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was brought in to prohibit local authorities from promoting homosexuality; was the actual law. The way that schools interpreted it was that teachers weren’t allowed to talk about anything to do with LGBT, LGB issues at all.

So there was no discussion around gay, or LGB, or LGBT icons. That is a lot of the reason why LGBT history month in schools and everyone is doing all the work in schools ever since. Because, it’s like, unless you are talking about these people, people just think that is an adult issue. Or they think that it is this very small section of people.

Abolishing Section 28 when it went was a really pivotal moment, because it meant that legally schools could start to promote, which is the whole point. Because you have got kids in the school who are LGBT and are not getting any of their stories or history read to them, or told to them, or shared with them.

I was at school and I found out Section 28 existed. I was really pissed off, excuse my language. I started researching it and I stared writing this in one of my English classes. I remember the girl sitting next to me was like, ‘What are you doing? You are supposed to be doing your Hamlet essay,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t care about Hamlet.’

I was writing this page, it was like newspaper layout. I think in one of our other English classes we’d done the whole draw the margins, write a headline and do sub headlines and stuff. So I wrote this newspaper article, and it was ‘We need to abolish Section 28’. I wrote my thing like ‘We need to’. I was 15, I was in year 10.

I remember my English teacher came over and said, ‘Can I have a word with you outside?’ So I went out of my classroom into the corridor. She was like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘Um, I don’t really care about Hamlet, Miss. I am just writing a newspaper article trying to abolish Section 28’. She was like, ‘You can’t really do that in school’. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’

So we had this discussion that this wasn’t something you could do in school. I look back at that moment and I remember that I was a really keen student at the time. I remember that was kind of the time, where I was like, well if I can’t be interested in something and write something in an English class in a school setting, where I supposed to be learning, then what is the point of school basically?

I remember just being completely turned off from school and saying, I don’t really get it. Then, since I did my GCSEs, I sort of stopped attending really and thinking about it very much.

And I was doing this thing in an art class as well. I was doing a painting when I was 16 in my art class. I did this landscape scene, and I was into Salvador Dali at the time and I did this river coming down from these hills. There was the sun in the sky like almost like a human face, crying into the landscape. The landscape was a river, and there was this naked, small figure sitting on a rug next to the river, head in hands like this. And the phrase all the way up the side of the painting was the person’s thoughts. And it was this thing that just said, ‘Mum…, Dad… (almost like the person was stuttering) I have got something to tell you… it is just that… I am straight.’

I remember making this piece of art thinking, why do I have to come out? Why do only LGBT people have to come out? Why doesn’t everyone have to say? It is back when you think I didn’t know what heteronormativity was, but that was what I was questioning. I was questioning the fact that I have to go through this process of being really anxious and really scared and telling people. But actually the norm of heterosexuality doesn’t have to go through that and actually we probably all develop our sexualities in certain ways and we don’t question it unless we do.

So I remember being quite angry then. That was 15, 16, in school. By the time I was 16 I had given up on school, because I thought it was a place where adults told you what to do. Whether you wanted to do it or not, whether you cared or not, whether they respected you, or you respected them. It drives a lot of how I do my youth work, because I think it is all about mutual respect. If someone is interested in something, giving them that space to develop that interest, and supporting them to develop that interest. I just wish schools could be more like that, but they are not.

I can’t remember what the question was…


Q. Coming out. [5:16]

FG. So I was quite out by the time I was 16. Because I was doing this in class. I remember when I did get to sixth form when I was 16, even though I wasn’t really there very much because I didn’t go to school that often, I still had my friendship group. Sometimes I’d go up in the afternoon, because it would be toward summer and we would all hang out in the park anyway. So I would go meet everyone. I just hadn’t been at school in the morning.

I had a really good group of friends. We ended up becoming quite a big group of friends and I am still friends with a lot of them. I remember people started to come out then. Some people were coming out then. But even then not that many, and not as many as have since come out who I was at school with. I remember every so often in my small group of friends, who were friends at school, you would sort of hear about another person who is coming out, or transitioning or whatever. That’s alright. So there wasn’t many of us out when I was 16, but I was, and a few people were.

I came out when I was 13-14. I think I came out. I didn’t really come out to my parents that vocally until I was about 17 or 18, but they basically knew. It was still a bit scary to come out to them. But then I finally came out to them and that was fine.

Then I started transitioning when I was 21-22. Coming out to them as trans was really hard. I remember telling a few friends on the phone. I remember writing a letter to all my aunties and uncles and cousins and stuff. I remember telling my mum and dad.

I remember telling my grandma. My mum said, ‘Oh my goodness, we are going to have to tell your grandma. Ok, this is going to be really difficult.’ My grandma lives up in Glasgow so we all got on the train and went up. My dad said ‘Well I will come with you’. My dad never went to Scotland with us, he was always really busy working when I was a kid. My mum was like ‘Oh, you are coming?’, and he was like ‘Well, it is a big thing’.

So we all went up and we arrived at my grandmas. She was like, ‘What’s happened?’ We were like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘You are all very serious and Ken is here, he wouldn’t be here unless something really serious was going on.’ And so we told her. And she was actually alright about it. I have heard stories that she has not been ok with it completely, but she is fine when I see her. She correctly names and pronouns me, which is minimum I think some trans people think they can ask for from their family members.

So I have done a fair bit of coming out. Then I guess there is also a really funny time where I just started transitioning to Finn. I think I just started taking testosterone hormones, so my voice was kind of waving all over the place, and I was binding at the time.

Me and my dad were at this thing we were doing together. I was helping him run this market stall near Old Street and one of his colleagues who’d he’d known a few years, I’d met a few years back was at this event. We were both there and the guy comes over and he sort of vaguely recognised me, and there was this other guy who was with him, who knew my dad but didn’t know me. I don’t even think he knew necessarily that my dad had two daughters. He was just like, ‘Oh hi.’

The guy that kind of knew me was quite baffled. Looking at me quite strangely. My dad was obviously feeling uncomfortable. I was petrified, because it was really early days of coming out. And this other guy innocently blundering into the situation. Going, ‘Oh, you must be Ken’s son.’ Because I looked quite boyish, masculine. And the other guy’s going ‘What is going on?’ in my head, and then my dad went ‘Yeah.’

I was not saying anything, because my voice hadn’t properly changed. I didn’t want to out myself. I was doing the trans masculine thing of staying completely quiet for about a year. It was left to this guy.

The guy said, ‘What’s your son’s name?’ My dad just went [frozen stare]. He just froze up, and everyone didn’t say anything for what felt like a really long time. A really long time. I don’t know how long it was. Then my dad sort of tried to say my name, but he mispronounced it because he went to say my old name and then he sort of cut in with my new name. It was all really weird, and confusing, and funny.

It is only funny looking back. Those situations when you are a young trans person are horrendous when you are in them. But it makes me laugh looking back at it.

Looking back, it is not a one off thing. You constantly come out.

I remember this one weird moment when I was with some friends. We decided, I was in my early 20s, we decided to go out and get a cab back. I think we were going to one of our friend’s houses. And so we are all in this cab and are driving back, and this once in a blue moon thing happened. As we were all getting out of the cab these other people were like, ‘Oh great, there is a cab. Let’s try and get in.’

And as we were all crossing over, it was someone who I was at school with. I was at a girl’s school my second half of my secondary. I was getting out, we knew each other. She was like, ‘Hi’, and I was like ‘Hi.’ Then we were in this thing where we were looking at each other. I hadn’t seen her for like six years and now I look like this. She thought she knew me. She does know me, but she thinks she knows me, and we just had this really odd moment.

There have been moments where past parts of life cross over with current parts and everyone feels a little bit awkward. I can totally handle them now, but there were a few instances in my early 20s where I was really self-conscious, really shy.

As a trans person, you don’t feel like a valid person in the world. You feel like you should be grateful for every time someone correctly pronouns you, correctly names you, or doesn’t treat you like crap, basically. So there was that kind of thing of feeling grateful all the time.

You know that trans community has moved on quite a lot since then. But I think young trans people still experience that where they still feel like, well, I don’t expect …

2017.129i
FG. ... to be treated so well, so when I am it is like wow. But that is how most people expect to be treated. We just exist down here a little bit. So again, not to move on to a sombre thing, but that is why a lot of abuse happens, a lot of abuse within relationships. Trans people feel not as validated in the world. Self-esteem, we work on that quite a lot in the youth club. Coming out is an ongoing process.


Q. What prejudice is there toward people who identify as trans? What forms does that take? [0:42]

FG. Well I have seen zillions of stories. I probably couldn’t recall even half of them at the moment. I just hear about the mistreatment, mostly. Obviously, young people are mostly at school most of their life. When they are at school it is a big part of their day, and their week, and their year. So a lot of things happening at schools, either their peers bullying and mistreating them, or teachers. I have heard innocent stuff, like teachers just not knowing, or getting it wrong, all the way through to maliciously picking kids out, and refusing to call children by their appropriate name and appropriate pronoun.

I have heard stories from teachers. When I do training, like, teachers who do all the right stuff on the face and then get into the staff room and ‘you know whoever used to be whoever’, and things like that.

I have seen a lot. We take young people out on trips and I am always mega conscious of people around us, as if I was taking out my own little baby children. There is that kind of thing where I remember being looked at, stared at, being treated badly, when people read me as trans, when taking a larger group of young people. So we have had name calling. People doing a lot of mis-pronouning. Laughing, sniggers, that kind of stuff. That is all the low-level ongoing stuff that really eats away.

I know that people get hit, abused, attacked. We have got some of the elders, especially trans women that come in. There is a young woman who turned up to a group that I ran about a month ago. She came in and she looked a bit pale. I was like, are you ok? She goes ‘no’. I was like, ‘What’s happened?’ And she told me a story of being attacked on the way to the club. So that is quite common.

A friend of mine was also involved in what was called ‘Toilet Gate’, in 2008 in Trafalgar Square. She went to go use the toilet, and she queued for ages, and the security who were being employed by Pride did not have trans-awareness training. They read her as a man in drag, and they said you can’t use the women’s toilets, you have to use the men’s toilets. And she was like, no, I am a woman. I can use these toilets.

Obviously it had been four years since the Gender Recognition Act. They said apparently, their trans-awareness training had consisted of if people have Gender Recognition Certificates then they can use the toilets that they choose. But in the law of the Gender Recognition Act you are not allowed to ask anyone for their GRC (Gender Recognition Certificate). So they asked her, she said you are not allowed to ask me. It’s really interesting, because she was someone who was sitting on the panel in the early 2000’s that wrote the bill. She was like, I wrote the Act.

So anyway they turned her away. They said no. They literally said no. So we were all standing in Trafalgar Square, across the square. And she came over and said you are never going to guess what has happened, I have been turned away from the women’s toilets.

We were like, at Pride. Are you absolutely kidding? Because this is a daily occurrence for trans people, being told they are in the wrong toilet, not let into a toilet, whatever. We were like, at Pride. There was six of us. We were really upset and angry. So we went over to challenge the situation. We were like, let’s go and find out what is happening. This is ridiculous. She’s like, don’t, but we are like, yeah we are going to go. There was a few of us and we went over.

It was really crammed at the front, the two queues for men’s and women’s were coming in like this. There was a few security guards doing the toilet control, basically controlling how many people were in the toilets at any one time, I think because it was crammed. It was right in the middle of Trafalgar Square, and letting people into the toilets so many at a time.

So we went up to talk to them. Obviously the two queues were converging, so there was quite a lot of people. There was a bit of misunderstanding. One of my friends got really angry, and the security guards thought that we were trying to push into the bathrooms. So they all did this thing where they stood together and held out their arms like this, and in the processes pushed one of my friends. So she pushed them back, and then there was this tussle. Someone fell over the metal gates they put in the front to stop people from getting in, and it combusted. Then police were called and it was just this massive situation…

And we were in these proceedings. It wasn’t the court, but it was like hearings for months and months. I boycotted Pride for like, I think the first time I went back to Pride was about two years ago. We went to these meetings afterwards. They’d apologised to us in the end because they realised the security guards were wrong, and that the tussle happened by accident and no one was seriously hurt or anything. It was just all quite quick in the moment.

They apologised to my friend who wasn’t allowed in the bathrooms. They apologised to my friend who had been accused of pushing one of them. They took it all back, and Pride said basically ‘We need to be more trans inclusive, we need to sort this all out’. But it took months of talks, and this third party organisation were helping us get our point across and that kind of thing.

So yeah, it’s the everyday stuff when it comes to discrimination. Then there is those moments of real violence or aggression that can happen.

I think the most painful thing for an individual trans person is the malicious or on purpose misgendering, mispronouning, misnaming and outing people. Which is a lot of power in being able to do that, because you can pretend to do it by accident. But then you can’t take it back, and suddenly all those questions your classmates might have had about you…We have kids that go into new schools when they transition, and they go in stealth because they don’t want to come out because of all the hassle they will face. So they just go in as who they are.

For some of them, puberty is looking different than some of the girls or some of the boys in that year group. Probably there are some discussions going on in the other kids in the year. It only takes one teacher to mess up and then that kid is kind of outed. Although they might try to retract and take it back, the rest of the kid’s suspicions are confirmed and then they have this talking point. They have this big taboo, and all that horrible phrasing that people use against trans people. I think that is the most common one that you hear in youth group settings, the mistreatment around a young person.


Q. Have you felt like other people’s religion has ever impacted on your LGBTQI identity? [8:24]

FG. No. I have never felt individually persecuted or discriminated against by anyone who is religious.

I remember years ago at Pride getting to that corner where you see the extreme (it doesn’t exist anymore because they don’t let them be there), but the extreme Christian right. We called it the ‘Christian Corner of Hate’. They would be there, and they’d have their police protection. I remember just walking past as a young queer person, first of all lesbian and then trans person, and laughing at them, but then knowing the hatred that they carry, and the damage they do do in other parts of the world. We all used to just shout back at them, and swear, and say I hope you are happy, because there were so many numbers of us.

I am not religious. My family is not religious, and I didn’t grow up with any religion. I don’t see anything coming at me because of people who are religious. I grew up in East London. Like, it is mixed in so many ways. So I don’t think people call out people specifically based on their religion.

The worst religious stuff that I see are people who are Islamophobic. That is the main thing at the moment which I hate. It is just going to pointless extremes that cause a lot more hatred, and a lot more hatred in the world. But a lot of people bring out that argument, Islam or whatever. I always remind people of Christianity, and the hatred that some people interpret the doctrines of Christianity. Because I think Christianity, Catholicism and some aspects of Islam, people who want to interpret it in a certain way will. There is no less hatred of LGBT in Christianity than Islam.

I get asked that question in schools, like when I do training in schools. A lot of the young people ask about Islam and the Muslim faith, and the Muslim people, and I just think no, let’s put this back into context. Because actually, Christianity and the exporting of Christian values around the world during colonial times was the biggest atrocity and violence in historical terms that has ever been done really.

Christianity exported homophobia and exported heteronormativity to places around the world where people weren’t really doing a marriage that we would see as a normal marriage today, or whatever. And different types of sexualities existed in different ways. In many other parts of the world the third gender, or two spirited people, or trans people were celebrated in lots of cultures, tribes and communities. When Christianity and the West colonised those countries and genocide was happening, the Brits killed hundreds of thousands of people in different parts of the world so they could control that part of the world. The Europeans and the British. So the question about religion is …

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FG. It’s all about who it serves to interpret religious doctrines in certain ways.

In the parts of London I have lived in, and the people I have overlapped with, faith hasn’t really been as dominant an argument against trans people in the way that I think I see the media reporting what is happening in the United States. So in the States, it looks like much more like a Christian vs this freedom of Christianity vs LGBT rights. That seems much more like a binary opposition thing in, at least the reporting of it that I see, because I have not been to the States as an adult.

But that is kind of what I see when I think of religion and LGBT people. Or Russia. Places like that, you know? They bring out a lot of religious stuff there. But I don’t feel it here.


Q. With the young people you have worked with who identify as being a particular religion, has it been an issue for them? Or a helpful, supportive presence? [1:00]

FG. Both. We have got a brilliant youth worker who identifies as nonbinary and Muslim. They do a lot of really great vocal stuff. With me, I am not religious, but I talk about the positivity of embracing your faith and being trans or queer. They are a good role model in a sense, because they have got a faith that a lot of people are attacking at the moment and a lot of people are holding up as something to hate at the moment.

We do talk to young people about faith a lot. There are young people that come that don’t necessarily feel like they can talk about their faith in a trans, queer setting. As a youth worker, you start to give space to that, and create a safe respectful space. They come out, if you like, as people with faith. Which is really brilliant.

We had some young people make placards for Trans Pride this year saying ‘Muslim, Trans and Happy,’ and stuff like that. So they are 14, 13, a bit older some of them, and they are making quite positive statements about their faith and identity in the same breath. Which is great.

We get a lot of young people, because they experience prejudice on the level of their gender identity, they understand other oppressions. They might have some privileges in their lives, as far as being white people, or being middle class people, but they also have that conversation with another person in the youth club, potentially facilitated by us, potentially not. Where they understand that other person is experiencing other things like racism, sexism, oppression, misogamy. And they are like oh this is my cause too, because I am also trans, and we have this commonality and differences.

So some of the anti-Islamophobic conversations that some of the white people of no faith or Christian faith are having - un-prompted - is mind blowing. They could teach some of my friends - who are people with jobs, intelligent people in their 30s - they could teach them a lot about anti-Islamophobia. I think as well that is being young, and I think a lot of young people now are quite politicised, are now realising this myth of the threat of Islam. My experience is they are really aware.


Q. As a queer person do you feel safe in Hackney? [3:55]

FG. Yeah, I feel really safe in Hackney.

It’s this fascinating thing of what is safety and what is not. I think I feel safest when I am in London or Hackney than I do…so some of my family are from Glasgow in Scotland. I go up there, and I don’t know how the land lies. I don’t know the local culture. So I feel more visible and more worried outside of Hackney where I can navigate things I think.

I was in Italy recently on holiday. You think as a white person you can navigate a lot of the world. I usually wear this trans badge I made recently with some young people. I remember going to the airport last week and the nearer I got to Stansted I took my badge off. I put it in my pocket, and I didn’t put it back on until I got to Tottenham Hale on the Stansted Express. I was getting on the underground, to get off at Finsbury Park to get the bus back over to Hackney, and I put it on when I got out at Tottenham Hale.

Stereotypically, the reputation that Hackney’s got vs when you grow up in Hackney…Yeah, I have seen some stuff. I haven’t never been afraid in Hackney, but I can navigate Hackney a lot easier than anywhere else in the world, because it is what I know.

Most people in Hackney, because it is so mixed and so diverse, are living alongside each other really happily. Really contentedly, and without challenge, because you are not singled out in Hackney. Everyone is different, so everyone is together. That is what I like about it. I feel the safer in Hackney than I have felt in the rest of the world.


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Q. Anti-capitalism [0:03]

FG. Yeah, that is the thing isn’t it? What needs to change is who controls who, and how it all operates. So when power isn’t in the hands of the few, who are making all the money and controlling the system, then it can be…everything can just chill out. I just feel like I want everything to chill out a little bit. Everything is getting so stressful, so opposed.

People are really angry and there is a lot of pain and suffering. You were asking earlier ‘what’s changed in Hackney?’ Well there is the gentrification and posh restaurants and all that stuff, the other thing that is happening is the lack of the safety net because the Tories have taken all that away and the cuts.

I think a sense of social cohesion again, a sense of less disparity between the rich and the poor, that would change a lot of things. The smaller things that can happen on the ground like a bit more funding to youth clubs, had to put that one in there. A lot of things are actually about these mega systems of power, where a few people have all the say and all the money, and they take a lot of resources and opportunities away from poor people. They don’t put them there in the first place and they’ve got the means to control that.

I think on the mega level that stuff needs to change, and I don’t know if it ever will, or how much it can change. But at a local, smaller level, if we just bring things back a little bit more, so that there is a bit more equality within communities around, access to some resources, some funding for schools.

The way that we call ourselves a democracy versus how democracy actually should be. More people than just a few get a voice. That there is education around the voting systems, so that people can actually, they feel connected to voting and they feel like they want to. Changing the voting system a bit so that people are voting for actually who they wanted rather than strategic and tactical.

I’d like to see schools change a lot. I’d like to see schools become places where young people feel supported and want to go to. I’ve got theories around schools, that they shouldn’t happen when people are teenagers. I think that kids are so excited to go to school. I’ve got children in my life that love to go to school, that think it is so exciting and great. Teenagers pretty much hate it. And when you are in your 20s you are interested again, you want to learn. I went to university when I was 28 and it was the best thing I ever did going back then. I was such a geek, I couldn’t get out of the library. I loved learning. And I wanted to do really well. But it took me until then to know what I wanted to do.

Teenagers basically don’t want to go to school and sit, and be told what to do all day. They are challenging authority anyway in their own homes with their parents. They just get to this point when teenagers get into their late teens and think, well it is me against them. It’s adults vs young people. It is really divisive.

I think a lot of teenagers could be doing work experience stuff. Like, setting up their own organisations, being given funds with the youth clubs and youth workers to be doing projects. Loads of kids I work with want to do good in the world, they really do. They want to get up and go and help, and start campaigns, and set up things that they know will work for other people or for themselves.

They want to create music, they want to create art, they want to learn languages, they do want to do all this stuff. But we just put them into these places where there is this notion of behaviour, and good and bad, and succeeding and not succeeding. Then you get people not wanting to succeed, because they don’t think they can, because they have been told since they are little that they shouldn’t be able to and that they can’t. I think school’s got a lot to do with it. I would definitely get rid of school if I was a charge, and set up a different system for young people to develop and feel good about themselves.

And then the bigger picture stuff around power.


Q. What sort of things need to happen to improve the lives of the young people in the LGBTQI+ community? [4:36]

FG. The immediate thing that could happen would be to give more funding to people who are already doing LGBT work in a positive way. So youth work or support work for young LGBT people.

Then the pre-emptive stuff. Educating teachers in schools, and health service, and the police etc., public services, about LGBT young people. So they’re thinking about those people before the young person comes to them and says ‘I am not being included’, or ‘this education isn’t for me because it doesn’t have my history in it’. So all the pre-emptive stuff and the funding for local things to happen would be with the system that we have already got, and the system that we are working with that would be the best thing.

This discussion at the moment, just in the last week, about trans people self-identifying their gender identities without having to go through two years lived experience. A lot of isolation and a lot of the abuse will happen in that two year period from the world, because they have to dress and live and use the right changing rooms and use the right toilets and stuff. But those are exactly the spaces that, unless you pass as a man or as a women, people are going to ask you those questions. Who are you and why are you coming in here? And have the violence towards you and all the bad attitudes or whatever.

I think if that was to pass - I’ll eat my hat if it is the Tory government that does it - but if that was to pass, and people could self-identify their gender identity, then we would have a lot more self-definition happening and that empowers people. When you have to wait for a gate keeper to sign a letter saying yes, you are this person, you are essentially still in that discussion around who’s in charge. Who’s got the authority, and who’s not.

As a person with an identity, then you should be in charge of that at least. At least if you can’t choose what job you get or whatever, we should be able to self-define who we are as individuals. Essentially you should be able to do anything for yourself as long as you are not hurting someone else or yourself.

If you need to survive, there is an author who I really love, Kate Bornstein, who wrote, ‘Do whatever it takes to survive as long as you are not mean to anyone else, as long as you are not mean.’ And it is true. She says (I think they identify as they now), you could be mean, sorry, you could steal, you could self-harm…these kinds of things that people think at any cost we need to stop young people from self-harming. But actually self-harming is sometimes a coping strategy to get through a hard period and then move on.

It’s like, if you are not hurting anyone, and you are changing your gender because it is right for you, then why are we so fixed in this old view of two genders being right for everyone? Actually, most people live somewhere on the spectrum day to day. Or shift between masculinity and femininity, and don’t rigidly stick to the fairy-tale princess or the fairy-tale prince, because they don’t exist. Men and women don’t exist as those shapes and forms, so why are we so rigid on these gender things?

I think just generally more role models would be good. So more people on television, more real people so not just the quintessential effeminate gay man, or gay woman who is acceptable for telly. Ellen, she looks a certain way that is just about feminine enough for lots of people to be accepting of her. Like, where are all the real butches? Where are all the real dykes? Where are all the real queer people? In every story on every television, soap opera, where is everyone?

So role models, more money…there is probably some stuff that I am not thinking of because I am sat on the spot. But yeah, I think the law is one thing, but it is a slow moving beast, and so is social appetite that is led by the people.

But it is changing, things are changing. People are much more aware and much more accepting.


Q. Would you mind explaining what two year process you referred to just now? [9:32]

FG. It is less than two years now. It used to be called the Real Life Experience. Two years. It is slightly different if you are under 16, under 18 or you are an adult. But it basically involves a lot of waiting and waiting until you see different. You have to see different consultants through the few gender identity clinics that exist. The waiting list to see a consultant at the gender identity clinics are really long, between 6-9 months to get an appointment, and then every three months or so.

Depending on how they feel you are getting on, they sometimes add an extra appointment on. So you could be a year, or two years, just seeing people until they sign everything off and then you can get prescriptions to hormones and changes to legal document and stuff.

A lot of the young people I am working with, whether they are under-18 services or over, are basically waiting. We do go-arounds at the opening and closing of our evenings or sessions, and a lot of them will announce when their next appointment is or when their last one was.

The systems that there are - the clinics, the gender identity clinics - are completely over supplied. They are bursting at the seams. They haven’t got enough appointments to give people. For me, that is the sign that it is not the right system, that it is not working.

Where is the trans healthcare? Where is it located? At the moment it is still located in a cis-normative model of operation. So it is located in this thinking of, well, you have to prove to someone else that you are who you say you are or who you know yourself to be. And that person is usually a cis-person, so not a trans person. I think that dynamic of power, it is the thing that is wrong. I think the less you’d have to do that the more we’d have people just being themselves and being a bit more fluid or having cross sex hormones but doing it in a more empowered way.

There is an organisation that has recently set up in London and they have been around for a while…

2017.129l

FG. …called Action for Trans Health and they are doing some brilliant actions. They did a protest that involved some people doing a protest at Pride. They are kind of talking about this thing, about why isn’t trans healthcare in the hands of trans organisations. Essentially, people who know from lived experience.

I think trans healthcare needs to shift from being this really medicalised model of waiting lists, and proving and living only in the binary, to a community answer. There is lots of groups like Gendered Intelligence and CliniQ in Soho who are doing a trans led sexual health clinic, mental wellbeing clinic and stuff. If trans organisations are running good services for trans people, then there will be less need to go through the medicalised route and the proving yourself to some on-high consultant doctor who you have never met before and doesn’t get it.

That is the kind of process at the moment. It is shifting at the moment because trans people are fed up and there are too many of us and they can’t cope with it all.


Q. You say you identify as queer. Can you explain why? [1:28]

FG. For me queer is really positive.

I totally understand its history. I think for me being a youth worker, one of the things about being queer and talking to young people about being queer, is about the education of its history. I don’t think you should use a charged word like that and not know what it means, and not be responsible for using it. There is a lot of reclaiming of terms that people have used against people in history as a derogative term, as a term of abuse, as a term to commit violence against that person. So taking a word like that back requires, I think, a lot of knowledge and responsibility around the use of it.

No one who isn’t queer should be calling other people queer. It is a word that belongs to the community. Even if someone positively identifies as queer, which I do, I wouldn’t want my friend to be like ‘Finn the queer.’ It is not about that. It is about queer communities and cultures taking that back and using it.

Interestingly, when I worked for Hackney we did an intergenerational project and that was a really important discussion that happened. We had a picnic and dinner event and another event, and the older and younger groups came together. That was one of the discussions, what about this use of the word queer? There was some LGBT older people that were really positive about it, some of them had connected to the shift. Some of them weren’t at all, saying ‘That was the word that was thrown at me on the streets every day for decades as a term of abuse. I can’t hear it anymore, and I won’t have it.’

When we had those conversations it was really interesting to facilitate that space and talk to younger people about reclaiming, but with a sense of sensitivity to the history. So for me, queer is just like the opposite of hetero-normative and opposite of cis-normative. Although I look how I look and I have got a partner who is a cis-woman, for both of it us it is really important to not be constantly surrounded by heteronormativity which for us just feels kind of alienating. It’s like something, I suppose, that neither of us identify with, although if you looked at us you would think that we were a regular heterosexual couple. So that is a bit problematic.

For me it is helpful to connect who I am as a trans person, with who I am in my sexuality. So I am not a cis-gendered man who has always been a man and has had those privileges, or has had that experience. I am someone who has grown up as a girl and woman in the world, and as a lesbian, and as a feminist. I am still all those things and I am a trans person. I have always grown up trans. That kind of thing, it’s been, my whole existence is being outside of cis and heteronormativity. So I have a very different take on the world, and queer for me is a helpful word to explain that.

Because it is not just about who you fancy or sexuality. It is about this whole mix of your identity, that is about being other to a norm, that society still thinks is the norm (which I don’t think it is anymore, I think society is hanging on to that one). It is about being outside of the fairy-tale books that you grow up with, saying that is not me, and I have had a different experience.

So that is what it is about for me.


Q. Is there anything that you would like to say? [5:30]

FG. I kind of feel like wherever I end up I don’t think it will be far from Hackney. I think Hackney will always be my home. And it is that thing where all my family, my mum and dad’s family are all Scottish and my mum and dad moved down from Glasgow in the late 70s and I was born in the early 1980s. And I feel like I don’t know England at all, I don’t feel English. If I go outside of London I feel like a foreigner, I feel a bit alien from the culture. I go up to Scotland it’s like I know my family a little bit, and I know their houses, but I don’t really know Scottish culture in the same way. It’s like if I was going to think ‘Where are you from?’ I’d be saying I am from London and I am from Hackney. So it kind of feels like my country and my roots really and my people.

And I think that LGBT people have always existed in Hackney, and always will. Anyone who isn’t ok with that should check with themselves, look themselves in the mirror, and think ‘Who am I?’

Because I feel like Hackney is a really mixed place. It has always been welcoming and accepting of all sorts of people from all sorts of walks of life, and a massive area of immigration and people coming in and changing local culture from different cultures to different cultures. The history of the Jews, and Pakistanis, and Caribbean’s, and a lot of movement. All of that is added to the richness of Hackney, and it is much spoken about so I won’t bang on about it. LGBT people cannot be forgotten in that mixture.

We look at Hackney. Visually we look at culture, and we look at race, and we look at skin colour and stuff. But actually the diversity that is in that is more mixed then we can see. And so I think unearthing the LGBTQ history of East London and Hackney and any community and any culture is really important, and I think we are just as about, as a wider society, ready to do that now.

There’s been local historians and people doing that for decades and centuries. But I think we need to start unearthing that, because once we can celebrate that much more we’ll be really moving on to changing some of the ways I think even sexism works, and some of the patriarchal systems work. Because if we get rid of gender then you know patriarchy might have to change as well, or it might have to change in a different way.

I think if we get rid of gendered stuff around marriage, and around men’s control of women, I think we will probably see a bit of a change in sexism and in capitalism as well. So I think those things will have to change.

I think there is a really rich revolution that can happen if you look at gender and you look at LGBTQ+ identities. And Hackney is a great place for that, so why not start here?
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

Object number

2017.129

On display?

No
 

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