Monday 25 March 2013

Her Name Was Lucy Meadows

As I type, there's a vigil being held outside the offices of The Daily Mail, in memory of primary school teacher, Lucy Meadows.

Some of you may be wondering who Lucy Meadows was and what was so important about her life (and death) that a vigil would be held outside the offices of a national newspaper.  Let me explain...

Lucy Meadows was born Nathan Upton.  But Nathan never felt comfortable in his body and late last year, the school at which he'd worked released a newsletter, informing parents that "Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman."

Miss Meadows planned to return to work after the Christmas break, having been supported by her boss and colleagues at St Mary Magdalen's C of E school.  I don't think it's much of a stretch of the imagination to think that Lucy must have been relieved - if a little fearful of the reaction - that she was no longer living what she felt was a lie.  As she told a friend in an email: "All I've ever wanted was to be me."

But any hope of embracing her new life was shattered when someone leaked the school's newsletter to the press.  Lucy had hoped that she would be able to return to work with the minimum of fuss and to use her own experience to inform others: "I suppose the best way for me to do this would be to educate the people around me and the children at school – I am a teacher after all!" 

However, once the press had hold of the newsletter, any chance of retaining anonymity faded for Lucy Meadows.  Journalists and photographers began arriving not only at Miss Meadows' home, but at the school - often turning up early in the hope of catching her on her way to work.  Reporters were hungry for quotes from angry parents and - shockingly - it seems that those parents who wanted to make positive statements in favour of Lucy, were turned away by the press, who were far more interested in picking her story to the bone.  Nathan Upton's wedding photograph was published by the media without permission.  Lucy took to leaving via the back door of her house, in order to avoid media attention.  She'd work late, staying inside the school building until the crowd of reporters and photographers had gone, knowing that she was likely to have to go through the same routine the next day.

And then Richard Littlejohn waded into the situation.

For my friends from outside the UK, Richard Littlejohn is a columnist with The Daily Mail newspaper.  He's famous for controversial, right wing opinions and for use of vile, homophobic words such as "poof."

It should come as no surprise then, that Littlejohn's article on Lucy Meadows was not what you might call nice.  For a start, Littlejohn pointedly referred to her as a man, calling her "Mr Upton," in spite of claiming to have sympathy for those who felt trapped in the wrong body.  Surely, if that were truly the case, he would know how utterly offensive it would be to Lucy Meadows, to read a piece in which she was constantly referred to as a man?!

Littlejohn called Lucy - or rather "Nathan" - "selfish" and suggested it would be "easy" for her to simply leave her job and get a different one elsewhere.  In spite of the obvious bigotry on display here, has Littlejohn seen the current economic climate?!  Jobs aren't easy to come by.  So you not only come across as heartless here, Richard, but as rather bloody stupid.

Here's a charming excerpt from the Littlejohn piece:

"Nathan Upton is entitled to his gender reassignment surgery, but he isn't entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children.
By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen's, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years.
It would have been easy for him to disappear quietly at Christmas, have the operation and then return to work as 'Miss Meadows' at another school on the other side of town in September. No-one would have been any the wiser.
But if he cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he is paid to teach, he's not only trapped in the wrong body, he's in the wrong job."
Now, I believe in free speech.  And I'm aware that that belief has to encompass those whose views do not match my own.  Therefore, you could argue that Richard Littlejohn is just as entitled to publicly state that he thinks Lucy Meadows was selfish, as I am to publicly state that I think Richard Littlejohn is an offensive homophobe.
But the story didn't end with Littlejohn's article.  It ended last Tuesday, with the body of Lucy Meadows being found at her home in Lancashire.  She had committed suicide.
As Guardian media commentator, Roy Greenslade put it, "there is no clear link – indeed any link – between what Littlejohn wrote and the death of Lucy Meadows."  BUT - and it's an important "but" - can any of us truly imagine what it must have been like to have been Lucy Meadows in the months since last December?  To have to sneak out of the back door of your home, in order to avoid the mass of journalists and photographers, just waiting for their pound of flesh?  To open the papers to see pictures of a former version of yourself?  To read comments calling you selfish and deliberately referring to you as the wrong gender?  Can we really imagine, even for a second, that none of that could possibly have contributed to a promising young teacher's death?! 
A Daily Mail spokesperson said simply: "It is regrettable that this tragic death should now be the subject of an orchestrated Twitterstorm, fanned by individuals...with agendas to pursue."
And yet every tweet I've seen regarding Lucy Meadows and her tragic suicide, has been expressing deep sympathy for her plight, as well as anger that she was treated so appallingly by our national media.  Call that an "agenda," if you will.  I call it a completely understandable human reaction. Even in their obituary for Lucy Meadows, The Daily Mail referred to her as "Nathan Upton," using "he" in place of "she" throughout.  Even in death, the press couldn't show her the respect they had failed so utterly to display in life.
As Kate Green, the Labour shadow minister for women and equalities put it recently: "It is totally unacceptable to humiliate people or invade someone's privacy when there is absolutely no public interest in the story."
And really, I see very little way that anyone can argue against that view.  How was Lucy Meadows' life - a life that she had finally felt able to live freely, being true to herself - of any interest to the public at large?  She was a teacher, yes.  And you'll always get people thinking that children shouldn't be "exposed" to complex issues such as gender identity at a young age, yes.  But I work with children.  I know how easily most adapt to changes and I believe passionately that we should teach them about respect and equality for ALL from a young age.  So... Next argument?
The fact is, a person was hounded by the press for no reason besides the gender they identified as.   Regardless of whether or not that contributed to Lucy Meadows' suicide, it was still despicable behaviour from our press. How, in a country of more than 62million people, can we single out one person in such an offensive manner? 
Freedom of speech is one thing.  But subjecting one woman to a campaign of media harassment, simply because she stood up and asked to be respected for the person she was is another entirely.  So yes, I am angry.  I am furious with Richard Littlejohn.  I am disgusted with the journalists and photographers who tried to make a national story - and a judgemental one at that - from an innocent woman's life.  I am deeply saddened that that life is now over.  And I am fully prepared to speak out about it.
Call that an "agenda" if you like.  I call it compassion.  If only Lucy Meadows had been shown a little more of it from our press.

Monday 4 March 2013

Reasons To Be Cheerful

This is me, looking cheerful...
Earlier tonight, I started writing a blog that took the form of an open letter to my ex.  No names were mentioned, obviously, but I realised, as a result of something that happened today, that a part of me, for all the moving on I've done, has never 100% gotten over the fact that I didn't stand up to him enough.  That I never called him out for the way he treated me.  That I never told him exactly what I thought of him. 
A huge reason for that is, of course, that I was so subtly manipulated by this bastard that I didn't even realise it was abuse until months after walking away.  It's only now, more than a year and a half later, that I can use the word "abuse" and know full well that that's what it was.  So how could I have called him on it?
Yet, as I was writing that blog post, I started to realise something.  I wanted to say the things I was saying, but I am so proud of how far I've come and so pleased that I've turned the worst experience of my life into something I can learn from and use to help others, that I didn't want to write something negative.  I've done that and it was hugely cathartic.  There's definitely a time when those who've experienced something terrible will need to express everything they're feeling, in a way they feel comfortable with and I'm glad I've written honestly about things that happened to me.
So I sat for a moment and did the impossible.  I started to think about the positives that have arisen from what I went through.  Some silly things.  Some life-changing things.  And I decided I'd make this a blog post in which I list a few of them.  That way, next time I get a bit down, I can remind myself of why I should be feeling pretty happy!
And no, before I start, of course I am not and will NEVER say I'm glad for what I went through.  If I could undo the pain, the total lack of self confidence and the long, horribly difficult journey I had to go on just to get back to being the woman I was before I met my ex, I would do.  I hate knowing how much of my life was lost while I was in that situation.  20 months of being in the relationship, followed by 19 months of soul-searching...  That was time when I could have been focused on my career as a writer, or busy meeting a decent man who'd have treated me properly.  I can't get that time back.  But I can remind myself of what I've taken from it.
You can stop reading, but I'm still listing these things, damnit!
These are numbered purely for neatness, they're in no particular order...  If at any point I refer to "you," I mean the abuser.
1. I never, ever have to hear the song "Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By" again.  Even more excitingly, I never have to hear you "sing" it.  And if, some day in the future, a guy puts it on when I'm in his bedroom, frankly it's going to kill my metaphorical erection stone dead.
2. I wear whatever the Hell I want these days.  When the Summer comes this year, I'm going to wear my yellow dress again.  Yes, the one you told me I looked like "a desperate slut" in.  I'm going to wear it because I CAN.  And I'm gonna look good.
3. I recognise the signs of abuse now.  Frankly, that should be number one on this list, because it's by far and away the most important thing.  I've not lost my empathy for people and I'm still always going to be someone that those in need of support can come to, but I know how to spot when they're just manipulating me to get what they want, or when they're using a sad story from their past to excuse their atrocious behaviour in the present.  You know, like YOU did.
4. I've learnt how important it is to stand up for myself.  I don't let anyone walk all over me; if someone starts on me, they're going to be surprised at how well a quietly spoken (most of the time), five foot nothing girl can hold her own in an argument.  It was a skill I'd been learning all my adult life, having been robbed of the confidence to do it, after being bullied at school.  You destroyed all the hard work I'd done, trying to rebuild that and worse, you used the fact that I felt unable to stand up to you (because you'd obliterated my confidence and because you made me believe you couldn't help your behaviour) against me.  Constantly.  Nobody will ever be able to do that to me again.
5. I've learnt where my limits are.  I know what I will and won't tolerate from a relationship and what is and isn't acceptable from someone who claims to love you.  It was something I thought I knew already, but hey, turns out when someone manipulates the HELL out of you, your goal posts get moved.  For the record, grabbing my arm and forcing me into the shower to wash my feet whilst you watch, telling me they smell and I'm disgusting?  Not something I will EVER tolerate in the future.  It's amazing how utterly blatant acts of abuse are once you're out of the situation and can see them clearly.
If only I'd been wearing these at the time...

 6. I'm stronger simply for knowing what I went through and having made it through to the other side.  Do I wish it hadn't happened?  Of course!  Something else would've eventually made me see how strong I really am.  But as it happens, it was this that did it.  And now I know I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.  Remember the girl that you used to call "weak and pathetic?"  She's a billion times stronger than you'll ever be.
7. When I get phone calls now, I never ever dread answering them. I don't have to go through the panic of wondering which version of the person calling I'm going to end up speaking to - the nice one, the emotionally manipulative one, or the plain nasty one.
8. I've used my experiences to help others.  I've started getting involved in abuse-awareness and I campaign, alongside other incredibly strong, caring, intelligent people of both sexes.  If we can use our hard-earned knowledge to save others from experiencing what we did, then it's time well spent.  I'm proud to be a part of the activist community and I won't be shutting up any time soon.
9. When I talk about my friends to others, not one of those people I'm talking to asks "are they fit?" then proceeds to make me feel bad about myself by contemplating whether they could get into the knickers of one of my mates - regardless of whether or not they're in a relationship.  Why?  Because I don't hang around with shallow, judgemental, immature little boys with one track minds.  I can talk about my friends and not be compared unfairly to any of them.  And just for the record, you never stood a chance with any of them.  Which leads me neatly onto...
10. I know who my real friends are now.  Abuse is horrible and it's isolating and the person experiencing it often feels huge levels of shame.  Shame they shouldn't feel, but shame they can't help feeling anyway.  Some of the people I was previously close to took the fact that I was isolated from them, or that I felt unable to open up to them about what was really happening (because of my own inability to believe that what I was experiencing wasn't somehow my fault, combined with my fear that if I told people, they might think I was exaggerating, or making the whole thing up) incredibly personally.  I lost friendships, some of which had been in existence for several years and which I thought were pretty much "forever" friendships.  There was some nastiness.  There were accusations.  I didn't always handle the situation well and I made mistakes in the way I spoke to some people, because I was angry. A few people took sides when arguments happened between myself and those who took my reaction to what happened to me personally.  Some actually told me I'd chosen my abuser over them.  I had to focus on me whilst I was getting support from an abuse charity and maybe some people thought I was being selfish for putting myself first.  I know in my heart that I was only trying to find my way through an almost impossible situation and there was no map to help guide me.  I was trying to put my life back together again and I'm absolutely sure that I did and said things I shouldn't have done in the process and I regret some of what happened along the way.  I don't think of the people who chose to end the friendships we had, anymore.  I don't use the word "enemy," because that would be utterly ridiculous and I don't feel any need to sit with the incredible friends I do have and slag those people who are no longer in my life off for hours.  We find better ways to spend our time. 
We go on day trips.  We sit for hours, talking about anything, from the mundane to the deep and meaningful.  We support one another, we take time for each other and we all know that we're there for one another whenever we need a friend.  It's a two-way system between each and every member of my "gang."  I respect, love and trust them and they give those things right back to me in return.  We're a solid unit, built upon the foundations of knowing we've experienced some of the worst things life can throw at us and we've come out stronger.  We've come out still fighting, not just for ourselves, but for each other.
I never knew the true meaning of the term "best friend" until I went through what I did.  Ha, you used to call me your best friend.  "Oh Emsy, you're my best friend.  I love you."  It was utter rubbish.  A best friend is what I have in Lydia and I am thankful for all that she did for me and continues to do for me, with every single day that passes.  When I was at my lowest, she picked me up (pretty much literally on one occasion), talked me round and showed me that I had things to live for, at a point when I had almost given up completely.  That's friendship.
Me and my girls.
I could go on for much longer.  I've not mentioned the fact that when someone asks me to make a decision now, I get to actually make it, not get overruled by you.  I didn't add that nobody places ridiculous demands on me, expecting me to be at their beck and call constantly, whilst calling me "clingy and disgusting" if I so much as send an unsolicited text.  I haven't added that nobody calls me "fat" now, or insults my general intelligence, or barks that I'm "just too stupid to understand" them.  Nobody sets me on edge, or makes me feel like I have to alter my behaviour to please them, or to avoid a confrontation.  Nobody blames me for their own appalling treatment of me.  And hey, nobody treats me appallingly in the first place! 
When I sat down to write an open letter, I was doing it because I thought I had to.  I thought I needed to get it off my chest, because I felt like you'd won.  There I was, 19 months ago, with my life in tatters because of you.  I was suicidal.  I was pretty much unable to go a night without needing a glass of wine to numb the pain a bit.  I felt like I'd deserved everything you did to me - from using me for sex, to threatening me with "the coat hanger treatment" when you thought I might be pregnant.  And you seemed to just go off and get on with your life without consequence.  You looked me in the eye and told me "I don't feel sorry for what I've done to you, because you brought it all on yourself.  You let me do it, because you're too weak and pathetic to stand up to me."  And there was a willing string of girls for you to disappoint sexually, just waiting in the wings, whilst I had nobody.  I honestly thought I was the biggest loser in the world.
But you know what? More than a year and a half down the line, I can write a list of things to be pleased about.  And this list didn't have to feature just ten things, it could have been twenty.  Or thirty.  Or a hundred things.  Because I've rediscovered the girl I was before you tried to destroy me.  I'm the old me and then some.  The old me, with added improvements.
I have incredible friends and yes, a close family (oh how you liked to guilt trip me about that, as though it was something I should be sorry for).  I wear what I want, go wherever I like, see whomever I choose...  I'm happy.  Not pretend happy.  Not "oh honestly, I'm fine" when I'm anything but.  Yeah, I have bad days, because I'm human.  But they're vastly outweighed by the good ones.
It's not about winning or losing.  It's about learning to love who you are.  It's about learning from every bad experience and using it to become a stronger person.  That's what I've done. 
Yeah, it's not about winning or losing.  But if it was...  I'd wipe the floor with you.
Nope, there's no reason to post this photo.  But I'm gonna do it anyway.