Who Represents You?

What is it that defines who you are? Think about it. There is something that sets you apart from others. Maybe it’s how you take your tea, the type of broadsheet you read, who you love or whether you pray to something beyond this world.

What sets you apart might not be that big of a deal. You might feel pretty similar to those around you: friends, family, colleagues, fellow fans of your favourite football club. You may have never gone through life feeing unrepresented. But, for some of us, this is not the case. Fighting for representation is most important when your identity sits on the margins.

Therefore, in rare instances when you feel ‘seen’ it’s a huge deal. Last week, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stopped by a queer-Glaswegian bookshop: Category Is Books. Let’s unpack that sentence. The political leader of Scotland – a strong, well-read, intelligent LGBT ally – stopped by a bookshop set up to promote and create a safe-space for queer people in Scotland’s largest city. Seeing this photograph – the First Minister’s smiling face standing with shop staff – felt revolutionary.

Though much international progress has been made to advance equality, LGBT rights, civil rights and education, much has also gone backwards. Here in the UK, the unfolding disaster of Brexit has made me as a gay, immigrant, person of colour – the ‘other’ in many respects – feel like a target for rampant hostility.

The minority Conservative government is (barely) propped- up by the extremely problematic Democratic Unionist Party. One of the most powerful and openly-gay politicians, who also happens to be Scottish, Ruth Davidson and her Conservative colleagues are complicit in this setup. So, while Davidson and I are both gay, she does not represent my politics. That’s why it is important to support politicians and political parties that uphold values of equality, acceptance and inclusivity. For me, Nicola Sturgeon embodies these values, and in turn Scotland does too.

I see Scotland as a nation of hope and of possibility, characteristics that don’t seem like a priority in Westminster. In the 1960s, my grandparents immigrated to the USA for all that the country offered. I did not immigrate to the UK for the same reasons. Instead, I met a Scotsman, fell in love and married. At the time, my immigration was based on pragmatism and not idealism

I now live in Edinburgh and watch global politics with a vested interest. Here, I have been met with kindness, warmth and hope. In the six years that I have been with my partner, I have learned a lot about Scotland’s politics, its customs and rich history. Of all the things that I have learned, the standout lessons have been an understanding of Scotland’s belief in equity and fairness. It’s not a perfect place, but it is a hopeful place.

I have spent a lot of my life in the UK and the division that bleeds from Westminster is not an identity I want to align myself with. I support Scottish independence because I believe Scotland can be a beacon for good in the world and can be a welcoming nation standing proudly against xenophobia.

Representation is important. It means lots of things for different people. It’s finding a character like you in a book, it’s hearing your accent on the radio, it’s watching politicians on the news who speak to your values and belief systems. In these trying times, if we don’t feel represented by Westminster, what will we do about it? We need to be bold, loud and uplifting in our actions. We need to take a page from Nicola and proudly represent the causes that mean the most to us.

Comments (15)

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  1. Dougie Strang says:

    Lovely piece. Thanks Andrés.

  2. Robert says:

    I posted a comment that mysteriously vanished… is it in moderation or do I need to repost?

    1. Robert says:

      I reposted it below, so you can delete this one, thanks.

  3. Josef Ó Luain says:

    “Hopeful” is definitely the word. Great stuff, Bud.

  4. Robert says:

    Thanks for the heartfelt article, Andrés. I’m truly glad you’ve found a welcoming home in Scotland. I too believe that for all its faults, Scotland is way ahead of the rest of the UK on so many issues.

    There’s a world of difference between the hidebound culture of Westminster and the openness of Holyrood. While the Tories make backroom deals with the homophobic DUP to cling to power, the Scottish Government proudly displays on its Twitter header, “Dear transphobes, we have a phobia of your hatred. Signed, Scotland.”

    But wait a moment. Who are these transphobes? I have long considered myself a feminist and supporter of women’s rights. Could I actually be a transphobe without realising it?

    Does it make me transphobic to point out — what is a logical certainty — that if any person is able to claim the rights due to a woman merely by stating that they identify as a woman, this makes women’s rights meaningless?

    You may have heard about some egregious examples. Such as assaults on women in a women’s prison carried out by “male-bodied trans women” (I understand this is the acceptable terminology) who have been assigned to those prisons as a result of their self-identified gender. In this case the Scottish policy is more “liberal” than the English one, in that it states that prisoners must be housed according to the “social gender” with which they self-identify, “whether or not” they have legally changed it. According to the Sunday Times, Gordon Pike, a senior official of the Scottish Prison Service, one of those responsible for creating this policy, was later convicted as a sex offender. (Sunday Times, 2 December 2018)

    Of course these are extreme cases but they are just the tip of a chilling iceberg. Just in the past week, Shahrar Ali, former deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, has started whistleblowing proceedings within the Party because of accusations of “transphobia” against him, in which the identity of the complainants has not been made known, contrary to the Party constitution. (Twitter, 30 Nov 2018) While Veteran McLibel and SpyCops campaigner Helen Steel was physically thrown out of an “anarchist bookfair” in Manchester for distributing allegedly “transphobic” literature. (Twitter, 1 December 2018)

    Is it transphobic to point out that there will inevitably be cases where trans people’s rights conflict with women’s rights (if I don’t want to be called transphobic, I am supposed to call them “cis women”)? If all debate is to be shut down by yelling the word “transphobic”, we can never resolve these conflicts fairly. What we get instead is a witch hunt.

    Anybody read “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller? It’s a brilliant dramatisation of how demonising your opponents makes it possible to cover up your own abuses. In the original witch hunts of Salem, Massachusetts, some of the people hurling accusations of witchcraft were quietly buying up the lands of the accused when they were forfeited to the state.

    So here’s the real question: what abuses of power are being covered up by those hurling accusations of “transphobia”? Well, it doesn’t take much to realise that any erosion of women’s rights benefits, above all, the patriarchy and powerful men.

    There are probably people here who think I shouldn’t bring up these questions. That by doing so I betray myself as a closet transphobe or right-winger. Well consider this: if those on the left keep silent about an issue, they hand the debate over to the right, allowing them to control the framing.

    I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I insist that it’s important to be able to openly discuss the questions.

    1. Jo says:

      I’ve read this article several times now and still feel taken aback by the whole “queer bookshop” business. I’m also alarmed that there’s a need for a “safe space” for “queers” in Glasgow. But mostly I’m wondering what the reaction would be if someone opened a bookshop for non-LGBT people.

      Frankly, I think there would be hell to pay. Rightly so.

    2. Robert says:

      PS. To illustrate the damage that is being caused by the abuse of the term “transphobic”, I’m reposting a Twitter thread from Rosa Freedman, who is Professor of Law, Conflict and Global Development at the University of Reading. (@GoonerProf, 4 Dec 2018)

      “THREAD: The excellent @Womans_Place_UK have put on many meetings in the last year to discuss women’s rights, and tonight I had the great privilege of speaking at one of those meetings. We discussed the law relating to sex & to gender identity. In many ways it was uplifting to be
      part of that meeting. I am a Professor of Law, tenured, protected in terms of being able to speak in a respectful manner based on specific evidence, and supported to undertake research on topical and timely issues. That has not protected me from the harassment & abuse dished out
      by the transactivist lobby. This week I picked up my post & received three more hard copy letters (separate to the daily emails I now receive) from staff and students at universities in the UK and beyond who are scared to express their views for fear of stigmatisation. This week
      I found my office door covered in urine, including some that had seeped under the door, and I spent time cleaning it up because I could not bear the smell or the shame of what had happened. Last week I discovered criminal damage explicitly encouraging me to leave the University
      because of my views that a woman is defined by law as biological not psychological. I have been attacked and vilified personally and professionally on social media by a senior Professor at another University who keeps threatening me with action (legal and/or re my employer), and
      have had my reputation spuriously and perniciously smeared by the local LGBT charity who seems to have provided the University with wrongful advice on the trans policy (thankfully it can and ought to be changed) and academics spearheaded by @natachakennedy at Goldsmiths (an
      institution that is not a leading light on women’s rights). Tonight I met other academics who are being harassed in their workplace for setting out views based on specific evidence (i.e. doing their jobs). We all go to work to do our jobs — and we are pretty damn good at doing
      the research, educating, & administration that comes with the job — yet we are being demonised, harassed, and targeted for expressing opinions based on the expertise for which we were hired and for why we are revered. This evening I was followed by students on campus, and ended
      up hiding behind trees because I was scared for my physical safety. I have been open about being a survivor of sexual violence, despite which young male-bodied persons have seen fit to abuse me verbally about rape or to follow me in the dark into secluded spaces. It is now 3.30am
      and someone / some people are continuously calling my phone from an anonymous number, & when I answer I am laughed at and told that I am a ‘TERF’ who ‘should be raped and killed’. If this is how a University Professor is treated, little wonder that women who work in jobs without
      protection regarding academic enquiry – e;g; factories, shops, schools, restaurants, hospitals, and beyond (where there are fewer / no protections in place in employment contracts and policies) — feel unable to speak up to protect women’s rights. Welcome to 2018, where people
      have drunk the Kool Aid, or are looking to make a career on the back of the Kool Aid, or are just looking for a reason to bully and berate women who speak up (particularly those with expertise). [Good night]
      Postscript: I think universities ought to consider sending communications to students & staff about appropriate behaviour. Peaceful protest is a legitimate part of freedom of expression. Harassment and abuse ought never to be tolerated. Employers have a duty of care to employees.”

      1. Robert – you raise these issues in relation to a post which does not relate to them. Your need to bring an issue into this thread is noted but it’s not relevant.

        1. Robert says:

          Apologies if I am raising an issue that seems to be off on a tangent from the original article.

          Since the original post is praising the Scottish government for its open attitude to minorities, I felt it was appropriate to draw attention to the point that “transphobia” (which has been highlighted by the Scottish government to the point of having it as their official Twitter feed header) is a double-edged sword and has been wrongly employed to abuse feminists and degrade women’s rights.

          I would welcome a Bella article focussing on this issue that does not take a simplistic “woke” attitude to the question of trans rights vs. women’s rights.

  5. Graham Ennis says:

    My comment has vanished.

  6. Angus says:

    Segregation is never the answer.

    This is 2018, it’s a disgrace that LGBTI bookshops are necessary. Hopefully it will close down soon for all the right reasons.

    1. Jo says:

      But are they “necessary”?

      I’m thinking that Glasgow hardly has the reputation of a city where LGBT people aren’t safe. So in that regard the wording is misleading and could give a damaging impression of the biggest city in Scotland.

  7. Fay Kennedy says:

    The only revolutionary politics is class politics. Where are those voices? Or am I deaf?

    1. I dont think your deaf, but the idea that class transcends all other human experiences seems odd

  8. Frank says:

    Interesting article. I have to say that I have never quite gotten used to the term ‘queer’. It comes after spending years correcting my parents, grandparents etc, for using it in the context of homophobia/ignorance. I’m still aware of some, mainly older Scottish people, using the term with homophobic intent. I have also noted that it tends to be a term used by academics/intellectuals as in ‘queer studies’ and I remember post modernists/Foucauldian’s at university using it alot – – out of interest, is ‘queer’ different from gay or is it just another term for gay.

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