Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Interview: Peter J Piercy-TRANS*GENDERQUEER LONDON

Peter J Piercy is co-founder of I first met Peter at the Fringe Film Fest where he was co-presenting a trans workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to highlight issues of the trans community and open up a dialouge with the intention to create a comfortable atmosphere in which to discuss issues freely and hopefully learn something. There, I was introduced to many both appropriate and offensive terms for the transgendered and it opened my eyes to the many different trans identities out there, no-one was scared to ask questions and many found it extremely informative. I found the workshop to be so worthwhile! I learned so much that I wanted to thank Peter at the time but he was overwhelmed with appreciative praise for the session! I really wanted to interview him as I think we need to learn as much about the other letters  in the "LGBT" acronym in order to promote unity and understanding. Thankfully he added me on facebook and I didn't hesitate to ask for this interview. To my delight he said yes!

Me and Peter met in the vibrant and diverse area of Brixton all smiles! Then had to work out where to go. I feel like I should have researched that beforehand but luckily Peter knew the area alot better than me. We sat outside this eaterie place and indulged in a little conversation about the little intricate differences on London accents "There are so many London accents but when you think of London you think of the old skool cocney accents-which you hardly ever hear at all." 

Me: Some parts of London people can sound Jamaican...

"Yeah, some people are like, why do these white kids talk Jamaican and all that stupid stuff but I think that's part of their culture aswell, it's how their friends speak. We pick things up from each other, you're not exactly born with an accent. No-one says a surrey school girl of asian descent should be speaking with Indian accent!"

Me: That's a really good point!

"Yeah Campbell Ex was saying when she showed the film Stud Life to an American audience they didn't understand how the white and black characters spoke simarlarly. But I think in London there's more of a homogenisation of culture whereas, I think in the states it's a little more seperate."

We then spoke about his move to london after he finished studying at university.

Me: What did you study?

"I did modern history from about medieval times, everything apart from the ancient civilisations. Where I could I specialised... Mostly 19th century. I prefer the modern stuff just because of the nature of it. The sources tend to be more reliable, plus most of the earlier stuff centres around Kings, Queens and battles which I find kinda boring.  I preferred to specialise in social history. I do think it's important to know about the structure and governments but I enjoyed learning more about people and attitudes in society. Although Oxford is a very good uni, it's also very traditional, anglocentric, eurocentric there was a top down approach to what they taught."

Me and peter then had a conversation about education in general and how you're better equipped at studying when you've had a period of informal learning and life experience. I then asked Peter how he knew he was trans...

"It wasn't like a lineal realisation  it was more like pieces of a jigsaw coming together. It was a long proces but it's only recently that it began to make sense. I think it's because ( as I was saying in the presentation) I'm not incredibly butch which is what I thought I had to be like. So I tried various different identities but I never felt comfortable. It helped a little when I came out as a lesbian, I felt there was more freedom to present in a more boyish way. But still that wasn't quite right. I was trying to be too conventionally masculine identifying as female. It took a while to realise that it was the other way round I was more of an effeminate man than a masculine women. That made it harder to work out because you hear the conventional narrative of "oh I always knew and used to play with the boys and wouldn't wear a dress" that kinda thing. Whereas I had tomboyish traits but could also be quite feminine, I didn't have that clear distinction. The prevalence of those stories neglects the fact we can all be different things. A cis gendered guy could be an arty, emo, sensitive type of guy. I think if there's more variety of stories out there there'd be less pressure to conform.

Me and Peter get into a conversation about the pressures of coming out and I confessed that I threw myself into a lesbian identity before I was sure...

"I think you just get a sense, don't you? I think I did it the more wimpy way (laughs) I mean I went to places identifying as gay and stuff but I was at uni and we all knew each other so I'd just go to London (laughs) to gay places and it's only when I got my first girlfriend I came out to my family. But coming out as trans, I did something similar to you coz I think how can you ever be 100% sure? I originally thought I would just start out by getting people to call me by a male name-just friends and the queer community but I didn't much change the way I presented and because I didn't change alot at first-the way people thought of me didn't either. Then I changed my name legally, at work and with my family. To me this represented taking on a full term male identity."

Me: Was that really liberating?

"Yeah! When I did it I was 90% sure I wanted to do it. I don't think you can know a 100% you've just got to trust that it'll be right-and I knew staright away it was right. You'd think changing your name after having one for years and years that it'd feel weird but because I already felt attached to my male name in my head it was fairly instant and pretty much straight away I felt bonded to my true identity."

Me: When you came out as trans did you encounter any difficulties?

"My friends were really great about it, but I think it will take my mother a while longer to get her head around it all, it's a hard thing for her to understand that's it's a permanant identity rather than something you can switch off in certain circumstances."

After a little chat about family and how our respective families responded to our identities I told Peter how much I enjoyed the trans workshop because of how informative it was and asked what inspired him to set up Trans*genderqueerlondon.

"I think people often think it's rather presumptous to set up your own project but I started it up because it was the group I wish existed. There are some groups like FTM London which I think are good for some people but I felt they directed more of their focus on the physical transition-which I think is important, to let people know about hormones etc. but I wanted to see an organisation for all kinds of trans people, feminine guys, transwomen, genderqueer. I wanted a space to talk about just living really whether you're pre-transition or post-transition and all the issues you might encounter. Most articles soley focus on transitioning but what about the rest of your life? So I started it up with a couple of friends and immediately there seemed to be a demand for it so we decided to set up a webspace. Because we're not such a formal organisation we can be creative with it which makes it so interesting to do. I didn't want the workshops to be like "trans 101" because it'd be in danger of either being too simplistic or misleading. For example, where you only hear these stories that are cliche like being born in the wrong body when that's not how everyone feels. Doing a basic introduction may leave people feeling more confused, I think it's much better to open a dialouge to help give a sense of the diversity rather than try and make these big statements..."

Me: What did you think about the trans season on channel 4?

"I think alot of people thought it was better than some of that other one's but still not wholly representative. They'd let them express their characters a little then it'd cut back to the genital surgery. It seemed to just feed in to the preconceptions people have about the trans community. It's focusing on the idea that it's only when you get that sex change that you're considered to be a man or a woman and "sex change surgery" in itself is a very broad term. There are many different surgeries people can have and some don't want any surgery at all-or can't have it for financial or medical reasons..."

Me: What else does the organisation do?

"Well at first it started out as informal meetings then we did the workshop at Fringe Fest which went so well we're looking to take take workshop to universities targeting the LGBT groups."

Me: That's a really good idea!

"I've found that many don't have a trans rep-although there's not that many trans people generally."

Me: How often/where do you meet?

"It's the first Sunday of the month at retro bar though we're trying to organise a new venue."

Me: Who can come to the group?

"It's for anyone interested in talking about their gender identity and even those who don't identify as trans but wanna talk about it; allies, partners, friends. There's alot of cis gendered people who are really knowledgable about these issues and contribute well to the discussion. There are such a variety of views and experiences regarding trans life. Some trans people see themselves as straight and seek hetrosexual relations whereas many are alot more queer than that. I personally wouldn't see myself dating a straight hetrosexual woman who'd never been with a woman before. Though, I would need to be with someone who appreciates the man I am."

Me and Peter  continued onto a discussion about how language can be a barrier when it comes to discussions. Some, through fear of being offensive won't say anything at all., the more accessible the discussions the more understanding achieved. We also discussed the politics of "passing"  (people not being able to tell you've changed gender) and how transwomen are often more vulnerable to abuse than transmen...

"I think it's more accepted by society for a woman to dress like a man than a man to dress like a woman. They're alot more visible. Some people just hate anything that challenges what they believe about gender. They'd rather people just stayed in their boxes"

Me: How long has the organisation Trans*genderqueerlondon been going for?

"Well it was quite informal at first but became more of an organisation. We started in November last year."

Me: (with no shame) Wooooow

"Then it sort of  just went on from there (smiles)"

There you have it people the amazingly articulate and personable Peter. I think what he does with his organisation is great like Frosties and amazing members of the community like Peter need to be celebrated for the positive things they do! I really, really urge you to go along to one of their meetings. I'm certain you'll learn so much more about transpeople through that medium rather than a sensationalist shock doc that will-in all likelyhood, misinform. Thank you so much Peter for a great chat and helping me spread the word about your wonderful organisation. For information about the meetings and interesting blogs about trans life in general click the link below. Thank you for reading. 

And do thatke a look at Peters personal blog-it's interesting stuff (:

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