UK Disability History Month started on the 18th November so today I’d like to reflect a little on what I took away from the sadness of Trans Day of Remembrance and joining that with some broader thoughts about inclusion and access
On Friday as I wrote out the list of names I thought not only of the people whose lives were taken but about the people who captured their passing, those researchers who in their questioning are shining a light on how trans people are being treated around the world. The number of names was higher than ever and each Name Unknown, sounded like the tolling of the funeral bell but the world is watching. We remember and we recognise and in so doing we hold you to account, we expect the authorities to investigate, to name, to know something more about each person whose life was taken, and in so doing those numbers become names, become whole people with lives, personalities, needs and rights. And so the world turns, the turtle moves and in the middle of darkness the light of progress continues to shine.
Back in 2004 when I started at Solent University access was the name of the game. Access to higher education, access to buildings, making reasonable adjustments so that everyone could take their place in society. No one was to be held back by their background; ethnicity; class; or disability. We were moving forward, making progress and making sure that everyone was included. Sure some of our terminology was wrong and we had a long way to go before people were properly represented but we were smashing down barriers where we could. There was funding to build ramps and make buildings more accessible and certainly from the outside it seemed like things were getting better. One of my first tasks as Halls Manager was to oversee the transformation of room 027 into a fully accessible wonder room with hoists and ramps and automatic door openers. It was exciting, it really felt like we had arrived at a a place of understanding and inclusion.
Of course I know now that this was just the tip of the iceberg, the start of the road, if we could have looked ahead then we’d have seen the shining bridge of the equality act on the horizon but perhaps we wouldn’t have noticed the storm clouds massing just beyond that bend. As we all started to make space for others to come up alongside perhaps some felt they were being left behind. If you didn’t embrace the concept of inclusion for all then those reasonable adjustments started to feel like someone was taking something away from you rather than giving it to another.
Counselling teaches me to take the long view, to see change when all around looks black, to find those moments of progress and celebrate them. And I do see change. I see that those adjustments that we made back in 2004 went a long way towards normalising living alongside difference. Able bodied people like me learnt a bit more about what changes they needed to make to buildings to make them more accessible to others and we also learnt to listen to those with disabilities as the experts in what they needed. I learnt to listen.
And since then I have listened, I have taken what I’ve learnt and applied it, but I know that I am always learning too.
Being trans is simply an aspect of who an individual is, they come to Chrysalis because that’s the aspect of their being that they want some support with but it’s important to us to recognise that this is not the only aspect of them that we need to be aware of, to respect and to make adjustments for if necessary. We strive to make all Chrysalis groups as accessible as possible, to make adaptations where we can and to provide space for those who need additional consideration to be able to access that without it becoming more than another aspect of who they are. We ask all our new group members if they have any access or support needs, we talk to them about triggers and the best way to manage and support them. If someone needs a support worker to attend the group with them then we will work with both the individual and the support worker to ensure that the confidentiality and respect of the rest of the group members is maintained. Access means something different to everyone. For one person it is the need for handrails in the toilet, for another it’s the time and space to adjust to the group before being expected to contribute, for others it is an understanding that their wearing shades indoors isn’t an affectation. Many of our group members are autistic and we have taken the time to educate and support our neurotypical volunteers in both the challenges and opportunities this presents, respectfully working with those group members to find the best ways to communicate and facilitate inclusion.
Working with all the wonderful people within Chrysalis and training so many people in the experiences of being trans has taught me to always ask, never assume and so that it what we do. We thank you for making your disclosure and then ask if there is anything specific you would like us to do to make your experience at Chrysalis the best one it can be and we listen to your answers.
The rest of this week is for me an exercise in listening. It’s the end of the month so it’s supervision week again and then on Wednesday we’re doing that most exciting of things, a staff Away Day! How that’s going to work in the virtual world will certainly be a learning experience for me but what’s life without it’s little challenges eh? Then on Friday it’s our conference, I could wax lyrical all day about how brilliant that’s going to be. I found out last week that my uncle was actually taught by Stephen Whittle, it was his books that provided me with my first understanding that there was a whole world of transmasculinity out there. Lucia Lucas I first heard on the radio when she was singing in a grand production that was being held in London (memory of incidentals fades, the impact never leaves) and my heart melted – here was someone who had proudly kept her voice, her passion, her authenticity when she transitions. Someone who showed that being trans really was an aspect of who she was and that who she was was and incredibly talented baritone. A stunning voice and I would recommend you come if only to listen to one speaker.
There’s one last note I need to make, an explanation for my featured image, our household has broken out in an elegant sufficiency of kittens. I am happy to introduce you to Giger, one of two who moved in on Saturday and I’m fairly sure the one who just tried to climb by leg! They are shut up here with me in the office before we introduce them to the wider household and I can assure you that this makes me very happy. I hope to be able to treat you to many more kitten photos soon.