Pidge: Full Interview

Duration 01:19:10


Interview by Olivia Thomas
11th September 2018

OT: This is Olivia Thomas, the date is the 11th September 2018. […] Could you start by telling us who you are and a little bit about yourself and how you’re involved in the Leeds’ queer community.

P: […] I’m the director of TransLeeds and… besides that I’ve worked on several projects, including Trans Pride, and also… involved in – I work at Wharf Chambers, a local queer bar.

OT: How did you first get involved with TransLeeds?

P: When I – I first moved to Leeds in 2015, back end of 2015, it was October. And I was – I’d moved from Preston, in Lancashire, and at that point there was nothing in Preston, there was no LGBT network particularly, I was in what could be considered the hub of leftist organising. I helped run a vegan café in the middle of the city and yet there was nothing going on, and so I felt very isolated. So, when I first moved to Leeds, and one of the first things I did is go on the internet and search ‘Leeds trans support groups’, and I found a couple. I found Gendered Intelligence and I found what was then the Yorkshire Trans Support Network, or TransLeeds, as it came to be. I – sorry, was the question how I ?

OT: How did you first get involved with TransLeeds? Not necessarily organising it, but how did you first come to find it?

P: So yeah, I went along, as a service user. I turned up as a nobody who knew nobody. I knew literally nobody in – it must’ve been November, though it might have been – no November was my first one. And… very interestingly, the guy who was running it at the time – at either my first or second one – didn’t show up, his car broke down or something. And so I stuck my hand in the air and went, ‘I’ll do it!’ [laughs] Cos I’ve been a tit ever since day one. And I sort of ran a group. But I had no – I had no intention of doing anything with that. I was just covering for someone cos they couldn’t make it, and fully intended to just seek out a community and look for support for myself, at that time.

OT: How did it feel, running that first group?

P: It was terrifying. I had a breakdown. We went for a break halfway through and I went and had a big cry in the corridor. But, y’know, it was good – it didn’t put me off, clearly. But, yeah I mean it was, it was – it was interesting cos the dynamic of the group then was so different to anything that came after it. It wasn’t particularly political, it wasn’t particularly focused. It was… it was just a get-together, it was a coffee afternoon, more than anything. It was a ‘let’s get together for two hours and make sure that we know there’s other people around us who are like us’ – and that’s really cool, y’know. I’m not denigrating that at all, that’s a really, really awesome thing at the end of the day, because, cos that does the main thing that all these groups should do, it’s just letting people know that there are other people like them. But it was, there was a lot less pressure in just standing up and being like, ‘yeah I’ll do it’. D’you know what I mean?

OT: So, how did you go from arriving, y’know just going along as a group member and covering to essentially running TransLeeds?

P: I… it’s a slightly complicated story. I turned up at Gendered Intelligence, cos I was 24 when I first got to Leeds, and at that time GI was open from 13 to 25, so I turned up to Gendered Intelligence as well, cos I was like, ‘oh you know, there’ll probably be some 20 to 25 year olds and I’ll find people my age and y’know get to know people’. There was no-one, at GI, everyone – except for the person running it and their assistant – was under 21, and a lot of them were like babies, like 16-year olds, and I had no connection to them. So I turned round to the organiser at the end of that first session and was like, ‘is there any way I can help out? Can I volunteer? Can I assist you, is there anything I can do?’ and she was like – Kerry, her name was – she was like, ‘yeah, yeah, you should come and help me run GI’, and I was like, ‘yeah, cool! Why not?’ So, I started to help run GI, as of like, December 2016 – 2015, sorry. And – at least the Leeds branch, cos GI’s national – and so, through that, and through some other stuff – so I was helping to organise Proud and Diverse, which was an under-25s LGBT group – through those things I started to get to know Aaron, who works for MESMAC.

So, then comes back end of February, March 2016, so three or four months later. I’m dead in with Aaron, and I’m starting to know all these people, I’m starting to get these, these connections and these contacts and learn who people are, and they start to learn my name. And the guy running YTSN/TL, TransLeeds, […] This person – the person running it gets a job in another city. And… so can’t run it any more. And Aaron turns round and is like, ‘hey do you fancy taking over? Taking over YTSN, TransLeeds?’ And at this point it’s one support group a month, it’s a two hour session the first Monday of the month, and I’m like, I’ve just, I think I’m coming to the end of a contract at a job I had, and like things are a bit like… good messy in my life, and I’m starting to sort myself out, and I’m like, ‘yeah, yeah why not, let’s do it’ and so I took over. It was as simple as that. It was just a responsibility passed from this person to me, cos it was nothing then. It was, it wasn’t a charity, it wasn’t constitutionalised, it wasn’t even barely a recognised body in the city, we just met once every month.

OT: Did you have aims for what you might want to do with it when you took it over?

P: No. No, not at all. When I first took it over, I was like, ‘eh, this is a thing that is happening. I’ll just run it as it is and see what happens’. I’ve never had any grand ambitions about anything like that, with that sort of thing. I’ve never thought, day one, there might have been a little bit of like: ‘God, imagine if it could be more than it is now’, but there was never anything like firm, there was never any concept of like, being anything beyond this dinky little support group that people turn up to and have a chat. There were things I wanted to do. I wanted to refocus, I wanted to be a bit more political. I wanted to do some more stuff with like… becoming more… like focusing the groups a bit more, so that they were more like, y’know, ‘where do you go for support, what do you do in this context, how do you fight transphobia?’ Y’know, more like… sort of learning groups rather than discussion groups, so that people can feel emboldened and empowered. But there was never any sort of like… conceptualisation beyond, ‘yeah, this is a thing, it’s happening, cool, doing a thing’.

OT: What was it like running the first group session that you did once you took over TransLeeds? If you can remember.

P: I don’t actually remember it! [laughs] Awfully! It must’ve been March 2016 – in fact I know it was March 2016. It was still at MESMAC then; we’ve moved twice since… It was… a lot better put together than my first ad hoc session, I remember that much. But I seem to remember a lot of it was just, I think – I think, I have a vague idea that half of it was, ‘what do you want? What do you all want? What do people want?’ But I don’t really remember, and then – did we do a social afterwards, at that point? I don’t think we did. I think it finished at eight, and then me and a group of mates just went to ‘spoons, and it was before we had this whole idea of doing a post-group social, of going to the pub afterwards. Cos it’s before I discovered Wharf, I didn’t know what Wharf was then. Yeah, no, I think, I think it just sorta happened.

OT: Can you remember how many people were there?

P: Oh God – 10? 15 maximum. It was small. Like, back then, TL was tiny, like the Facebook group had 70 people in it at that point, if I remember rightly. Like, it was dinky, back in the day.

OT: So, obviously since then it’s grown quite a lot. Can you, I guess, give us an overview of the two years since then?

P: Okay, so. I ended up in a relationship with someone who was also really, really committed to a lot of the ideals that I had behind TL. And he was hugely instrumental in two ways: he attracted a lot of younger, university age trans people, through just friendship networks that he had; and two, he drove what I’d argue were the first steps towards organisational administration that were applied to the group. So, we had our first sort of designation of staff roles, we had our first sort of conceptualisation of membership and recording who was attending and how many people were attending. And in those first six months, March to September 2016, probably, TransLeeds exploded. Literally exploded. We went from 10-15 people in MESMAC’s main meeting room to – by the end of the year we had 50 attending a session. And… it grew, massively, hugely: university students started attending, older people started attending, we had huge numbers walking through our door. And two things happened: one, we had to set up a second group, which was the mid-month meeting, and the mid-month meeting was run in conjunction – and still is – run in conjunction with MESMAC and it’s designed to enable better access to sexual health for trans people by creating a safe space for getting tested and stuff, and it also just gave us a second session, so it was like a release valve, so if people didn’t wanna – if people thought the main meeting was too much they could come to mid-month. It also had more of a focus on adult, on more adult topics, so like we dealt with sexual health or safe sex or sex toys and stuff like that.

The other thing that happened, I think in that period, was – oh no, two things that happened in that period; two more things happened in that period – we started having post-group socials. So instead of people just disappearing after group, we started going to the bar, and initially we went to Queens Court, and then realised that Queens Court was a nightmare – it’s just too loud. And shortly after that, I was introduced to Wharf Chambers, and I realised that this was perfect, cos Wharf is – was at the time – heavily run by queer people, trans people, with a sort of open expression of anarchism and like support for communities and grassroots activism. So I started taking the group there. And… and one night, we ended up having a lock-in, and there were about 15 of us, and there was three staff from Wharf, and about 10 or 12 members of TransLeeds. And it changed a lot, in terms of how people were feeling. Suddenly, a bunch of people from TransLeeds had a connection to this huge history of queer activism that Wharf represents, so some of the people that worked there have decades of experience of doing queer activism, when most of the people who come to TransLeeds have just found themselves and are just discovering what queer activism is. And also, the staff members at Wharf who were there – who were all trans, actually – that night, most of who don’t work there anymore, they saw this new generation and this new energy and it was really, really empowering for them to see that it wasn’t just the same old people, it wasn’t just the same old voices, that there were all these new ones coming through and there was this opportunity to connect those things together, this history and this new freshness. So that was good [laughs].

And also, in that same period – a lot happened in that first year. We moved main meeting from MESMAC to Cosmopolitan – Cosmopolitan Hotel, round the corner, offered us a… the use of a… conference room, for essential free, and we filled it. We filled it every month for the first year of use, basically. It was incredible. We had to move out of MESMAC, we had people sitting on the floor at meetings, there weren’t enough chairs, there wasn’t enough space, people couldn’t see the board, it was ridiculous – it was fantastic, but it was ridiculous.

And that was also for me a period of really intense, like, radical change in my own identity, radical change in terms of my relationships with others. Queerness and punk and those things developed massively quickly for me. And my connections with people were very, very intense. Y’know, friendships, not just relationships, though I did start new relationships during that period, but just very, very, very intense friendships. Which changed very suddenly, very rapidly, and it was – if I would call it anything it would be TransLeeds’ messy period, it was gross, it was its real birth. We had kids coming who were having psychotic breakdowns in the middle of sessions, we had people who had severe alcohol issues, we had people who would want to start fights at the bar because they didn’t know how to deal with their emotions – y’know we had all these… unhappy, broken people – me included, at that point in time. But we were giving them a place. But it gave them something to cling to. I had a number of messages from people that essentially said that if it wasn’t for TransLeeds they’d be dead. And… that’s really powerful, but it’s really hard to hear, that it’s this one thing that they’re clinging to.

So – time moved on, and eventually, somewhere in the middle of 2017 – yeah? We hired new staff. So, towards the end of 2016, start of 2017, we ended up with three staff. We had me running everything, and then two peer support workers, who were just volunteers from the community who were, who were up for doing something, for helping people out, for people being pointed in a direction and people chatting and stuff when they were feeling down. And that worked really well, up to a point, and then I started on the long road of burnout, which I hadn’t really noticed. I didn’t notice at the time, at least I pretended that it wasn’t happening, despite how many times it was pointed out to me. But what I’d ended up doing – we lost one of those peer support workers in an incident, they resigned under a bit of a cloud, and… I hired two new people.

So I brought on Natasha Handley, who was originally just going to be another peer support worker, and Col Walton, who came with a – so Natasha I brought on because she had really, really clear sort of administrative experience. She had some great, great – she’s, she’s business-like, y’know. I’m a very grassroots activist, I kick holes in the world, and I met, put the first sort of like struts up and then I need someone to come in and go, ‘ah within those struts we can build a building that will last’. And that’s what, that wasn’t what Natasha was supposed to be, but I could see that experience in her nonetheless. But she was supposed to be a peer support worker. And Col Walton came onboard with an excellent CV from his uni days as a co-coordinator. So the idea behind Col was that he was going to take on a lot of the back end stuff: organise groups, manage like email accounts, do the sort of thing that meant that I could focus on the day-to-day, so that I didn’t have to get bogged down in the admin, so that I could keep just doing the face-to-face point of contact stuff that was, in my mind, really, hugely necessary, without being burnt out by answering emails and y’know chatting to whoever.

That didn’t quite work. It didn’t quite happen the way we expected. And what happened, was that over the course of three or four months, Natasha being the co-coordinator and Col did much more peer support work. That happens, you know, the real joy of these really fluctuating concepts around sort of grassroots initiatives is that if someone’s not really hacking something but is really managing something else, you can just go, ‘just change your job title’. And we did that a couple of times, people’s job titles changed [clicks fingers several times rapidly] fucking like that, like, every other minute there was a new job title for someone cos like, we didn’t have an idea of what things were, we were really sort of like finding our own structure and our own shape to things, and then… and then we constitutionalised.

And then we became an actual charity, with a, with a small charity constitution, which the four of us signed. And suddenly, we were trustees, with a bank account, and everything is different – y’know, I’m a director now. I’m not, I’m not someone who happens to be running around running groups, I’m a director. I do… I have a title, and it’s a title that’s now set in stone, because it’s set in stone by the constitution, so it’s a real thing, this is, this is big – I’ve got a lanyard now and everything, it’s atrocious.

And in the same time period we set up the men’s group and the women’s group. And they were – we set up – we set them up not with the intention of gendering, not gender policing, sorry, but that we would give space for specific issues to be dealt with. And we figured that we weren’t going to ask anyone to prove their gender who came in to the spaces, but what we were gonna do was not set up a non-binary group, cos Non-Binary Leeds existed by that point. So, men’s and women’s groups got set up. So that was mid-2017. And then – no that was late 2017, yeah mid-to-late, it was like September, October, it was about a year and a half after I started with TransLeeds – and then…

Start of 2018 we realised [laughs] we realised that we didn’t have enough staff. And we advertised for five new positions – five. We doubled the number of people we needed because we realised that we were way overloaded. I was massively burnt out by this point and suffering the first phases of what was definitely a mental breakdown. And so we hired five new people – we hired someone to run groups, we hired someone to do outreach, we hired someone to do equalities, to focus on diversity, because it’s an issue that we’re still facing. Who else was there? Oh, someone to do admin, someone with a specific focus on admin because that was always something that had been left, so like I’m really bad at emails so like that’s always something that suffered a bit. Aaaaand… was it four? Might’ve been four. I might’ve forgotten someone.

So that’s kind of where we are now – we’ve got eight or nine staff, we’ve got a radically different structure to when it first started, y’know when it first started it was one two-hour session a month with no concept of what it was. It was just a thing that happened. And now it – there’s three-to-four support groups a month, there’s multiple social sessions a month. There’s a clothes swap, there’s board gaming; there’s four trustees and five staff. There’s… it exists as a charity, y’know. We’ve been nominated repeatedly for awards – National Diversity Awards, Leeds Owlies, MESMAC Me Stars – y’know, we have been funded and recognised by the NHS, by Touchstone, by all these organisations and huge things have happened in the last two years. And it’s amazing. I think that’s my answer [laughs].

OT: I’m gonna pick up on a few things you said and just ask you to kind of expand on them.

P: Of course, yeah.

OT: You talked about when, sort of in those first, maybe first year of running TransLeeds, you underwent a personal change in your identity. Could you talk more specifically about that?

P: [pause] Yeah [pause] I dunno, it’s quite a complicated question to answer. If I focus on my first year, it’s a little easier. So when I first came to Leeds I was a traditionally femme-presenting trans woman who didn’t really have any other examples. The only examples of other trans women I’d ever seen were traditionally femme-presenting, I mean traditionally femme-presenting, y’know, heavy make-up, skirts, dresses, heels. And I met a woman who changed all that. She was [pause] a lot of things: powerful, intelligent, passionate, femme, punk, heavily tattooed, heavily pierced. She ran around in cut down shorts and t-shirts and skateboarded and cycled and she was a bike messenger and she was so fucking cool, and all I wanted was for her to notice me [laughs]. But… she changed the way I thought about things. She changed a lot of my ideas around – I always said to people, you don’t have to dress or look or present a certain way in order to be valid in your gender identity and yet I still myself to the same standards, and she kicked that to the kerb. She made it so that I didn’t feel that anymore, like… it took time.

But over time, I stopped doing the things that I was uncomfortable with – I wasn’t comfortable wearing skirts and dresses and make-up, and so it took time – 18 years, two months time, but I stopped presenting femme. I stopped wearing make-up – not that those things are inherently femme, she was still femme, I’m not. But… yeah, it changed my whole perspective on things, cos it was like why, why do I expect the same standards of myself that I don’t of anyone else? And that was radical, because it was the realisation that I might be holding myself to standards that I don’t expect of anyone else, and if I am, why am I? And that’s something that’s really important, I think, for a lot of people to hear, because a lot of people think, ‘oh no, they can do that, they can feel free in that, but I can’t’, and it’s like, ‘well why not? What’s gonna change if you do something different?’ Y’know? So now I’m heavily tattooed, heavily pierced, I run around in cut down shorts and t-shirts and I skateboard and I bike.

OT: Could you talk about the peer support and how that began, so at what point did you start moving from just doing group sessions to supporting people outside of group?

P: [Exhales loudly] Day two. Pretty much day two. I mean, that’s an exaggeration – second, third session? It became really, really quickly apparent that… there were a lot of very… there were a lot of people who were hurting real bad and a group wasn’t cutting it, and what they needed was to be able to message you and just be like, ‘I’m fuckin’ hurtin’’, and for you to be there and be like, ‘okay, tell me about it. What’s going on? What can I do?’ Y’know? In the last two years I have done things that I could never imagine, y’know. I’ve gone and found people. I’ve delivered food to people at three in the morning, cos they’ve got nothing. Y’know, I’ve talked to people in the middle of the night, because they need someone to talk to.

But yeah, peer support was something that was necessary from, pretty much day one, and it became apparent pretty much day one. Like, as soon as – the person that I was in a relationship came on board as a peer support worker because they were already doing it. And essentially what I turned round and said to them was, ‘give yourself the backing of this organisation’, whatever the organisation was at that point, ‘give yourself that weight behind you and people will trust you more. They’ll open up to you more’. And people did. And that was what it was, it was here, here is this thing you can use, here is this title you can hold and it will help you do that work. So they worked for us instead of working for themselves.

OT: How was it, kind of learning on the job, I guess, how did you find that? Cos obviously you’ve said you’ve done things you never thought you would do.

P: I… [pause] Horrible. Terrifying. Rewarding, enlightening. Powerful. Full of fear – constantly. I’m terrified I’m gonna lose someone one day, just always, all the time that fear is always in my head. I – there are people, there were people back then who I haven’t, there are people now who I fear it for. And I’ve been dealing with my own problems for the past two years, there are problems that I haven’t dealt with over the last two years, because other people were more important. Because I knew that, at the end of the day, I’d survive, and they might not. And so rather than, rather than deal with my issues, I threw myself into their issues. I did those things that needed to be done because at the end of the day I’d live. Interestingly, I applied a lot of the things I’d learned… from my own therapy to a lot of the young people I’ve supported over the last two years. There’s a lot of like random little bits of CBT that have come out of my head and into other people’s, hopefully. And like, yeah, it’s… it’s the strangest experience I think I’ll ever have. And… I’ve had some strange experiences. Yeah.

OT: You’ve talked a bit about burn-out, and how you felt you set yourself up for burn-out. Could you talk a bit more about that?

P: I think burn-out’s a really underappreciated thing with activists. It’s really hard to recognise. I still forget that – I’m still recovering from the last two years and I’ve heavily, heavily disconnected from the day-to-day running of TransLeeds, and I’m still recovering, and I will be recovering for a while. I mean, I’m exhausted all the time. I don’t have the energy to go out and do things because I’m just tired. We push ourselves, as activists – not just me – any activist, we push ourselves to do the things that need to be done because they’re the right things to do, and that’s wonderful and that’s glorious and it’s… so bad for you. Because if you’re pushing yourself, you’re not taking care of yourself, and if you’re not taking care of yourself, you will burn out. And some people can drive themselves for years, but some people can drive themselves for weeks, and if those people are burning out every four weeks then they need to be more careful cos they’re not gonna be able to work beyond, y’know they’re not gonna be able to get that work done.

I was lucky that I lasted two years, but I didn’t I lasted 12 months, maybe 18 on the outside – the last six months of my work for TL where I was heavily involved were lazy, and they were – they weren’t lazy, they were filled with exhaustion, they weren’t up to scratch. And I regret that intensely, because I could’ve missed something. It seems like I didn’t, but I could’ve missed something, and if I had, I’d never have been able to forgive myself. And that’s the thing I think is really dangerous with the idea of burn-out is that when you’re not operating at your peak, when you’re not giving yourself the time and the space to rest and relax… you’re gonna miss stuff. Y’know? We talk about burn-out in all sorts of work, so like doctors burn out. Doctors burn out and they miss things with patients and patients die, y’know. It’s the same sort of thing with activism. Maybe it’s not as immediate. But yeah, you miss that message off that kid who’s struggling and you don’t know what that’s gonna do down the line. Yeah. And that’s pretty hardcore. I still don’t know how to spot it. I just know that I’m tired.

I gave my life, fully, to TransLeeds for two years. It has damaged relationships, massively. It’s damaged my friendships massively, because I was on a crusade and it’s a crusade that’s ongoing, I’ve just handed it off to other people and they’re still fighting it. Because it’s a crusade that needs fighting. I think the problem was that for the longest time I was doing it on my own. Or if not alone, then… there were very few of us doing it. And I should’ve reached out and asked for help earlier.

OT: When you kind of look back at all the things that have been achieved by TransLeeds in the last two years, what do you feel now in terms of those achievements?

P: How d’you mean?

OT: Just, when you look at where it’s come from and where it is now, what do you think?

P: It’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever been involved with. We’ve done some absolutely amazing things, and the most amazing thing – the most amazing thing we have done is save lives. Y’know, yeah, it’s really, really cool that we led Pride this year. It’s really, really cool that we hosted the first Trans Pride in Leeds, the first Trans Pride in the north. It’s really cool that we have all these support groups and all these people and all these good things, but the most important thing we’ve done is save lives. And I’m under no illusions that we’ve done that. Because we gave people a space to be, we gave people a space to feel welcome and warm. And we fed people, and we held people, and there is nothing more terrifying or good feeling – I can’t think of the word – in the world. There’s just nothing. It’s, y’know… I didn’t get into this to win awards, I didn’t get into this with any idea of where it’d go. If I – I used to say to people, if I could come away from my work with TransLeeds and one person turns around to me and says, ‘you’ve made a difference in my life’, then I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do, and it’s not one, it’s more like 200. And that is just the most incredible thing in the world. You okay? You need a minute?

OT: Maybe.

P: Do you wanna take a break?

OT: […] Okay so we’ve been talking about Prides that have happened since you’ve been involved with TransLeeds, starting with 2016.

P: Leeds Pride 2016: the year that nothing happened. So: I have an issue with Pride. Because Pride – in Leeds – is a party, or it has been previously, not a protest as it should be, in my opinion. So in 2016, TransLeeds did not march, because somebody, being me, got up on her high horse and decided that we weren’t going to march because, ‘damn pride and damn all it represents’. Which was stupid. It was – I don’t remember if we did nothing, I feel like we did something. No, we didn’t – we did something on the Saturday, but on the Sunday I was working. I had a job in a shop, and so I went to work in the shop on the Sunday cos it’s on Lower Briggate and I couldn’t not work. I was literally not allowed to not work. So, Pride 2016, nothing happened.

OT: And 2017?

P: 2017, everything happened! 2017 was the year that everything changed. So, after 2016 I came to the realisation that it wasn’t fair for my personal political views to get in the way of the potential representation and giving people a space in which to march that there should’ve been in 2016. So, I had a revelation and we applied for a slot to march. And, as well as marching, we had a craft session, funded by Pride. They gave us 200 quid or something to do a craft session, we made t-shirts and posters and banners and all this stuff. Two people actually made TransLeeds a homemade banner, which was incredible, which I still have, actually I own that now, cos we’ve got a fancy one now. It was made out of felt and curtain, as far as I remember, and is utterly amazing, I love it so much, and it’s got all these handwritten like slogans on it by everyone in the community.

Anyway, so we marched, and then after the march… we had a quiet space at the Cosmopolitan. So, 2017 was a huge success. We marched with 150 people. We were visible and we were loud, and we did all those things you’re supposed to do, and we had our own little protest, we did our thing, y’know. Everything I was scared of about Leeds Pride never came true. And it was good, y’know; it wasn’t great. We were a bit invisible in the media and that, but it was positive and it solidified the idea that I’d made a mistake the previous year, but I wasn’t gonna kick myself over it. I was like, ‘right from now on we just do better’. And, yeah, 2017 Leeds Pride… was good. Mostly. [pause]

OT: And out of that the idea for Trans Pride was born?

P: Yes, oh yeah, yeah yeah yeah – so Monday main meeting happened the day after Leeds Pride. I was sober at that point. Like I’d been sober for a year I think by then, or something, some time at least. So I was fine, though I was shattered. But about eight people turned up, because everyone was hanging after Pride. And, we were sat around talking about what we wanted, and about the fact that there wasn’t enough representation for trans people at Pride. And so the idea was to have our own celebration on Trans Day of Visibility, all of six months later. So, we got in touch with a couple of people, and me, Natasha Handley and Jamie Fletcher started to drag together the first ideas for Trans Pride.

And, March 31st 2018, it happened: the first ever Trans Pride in the north. It wasn’t the first ever Trans Pride, cos that goes to Brighton, it wasn’t even the second because Bristol has one. And on the same weekend, Glasgow had their own. But hey that’s cool, y’know, if there’s more there’s more, that’s great, but it’s was the first in the North. Because Sparkle isn’t Trans Pride. But – I mean it was a bit of a mess, but it came together really well. It worked. We got some big names – Fox Fisher and Owl came and did a thing and that was very exciting [sotto voce] and very expensive. But yeah, it happened and 400 of us marched in the rain in March in the centre of Leeds, on a Saturday, I think it was. It was awesome. It was utterly fantastic. And I can’t… I can’t believe we pulled it off, it was incredible. There are some amazing photos and then there were – it was like three or four solid days of just doing everything. Y’know, there were talks, there were performances, there was crafty stuff, there was, there was parties, y’know, it was incredible. It was absolutely incredible…

OT: You spoke before the march at Trans Pride.

P: Yes.

OT: How did you feel about that?

P: [pause] At that point in time, it was the most people I’d ever spoken in front of. I stuttered, I was nervous, horribly nervous, but it was so good, y’know? It just felt incredible. Like, I was just talking to my own, y’know? A sea of faces of just people like me, and that was just incredible. And then we marched, and we chanted, and we were loud, and we were noticed. Ish.

OT: It was raining, to be fair. How did marching at Trans Pride compare to marching at Pride?

P: So different! So different. It was just us, y’know? It was just us, and there was no way that anyone seeing it could see anyone but us. Y’know, people look at Leeds Pride and they see a party, they see rainbows and colour and brightness and at Trans Pride they saw a group of people, they saw 400 people persevering through the rain, making sure they were heard, that just they were heard, and that’s so cool.

OT: Could you talk a bit about the idea of making Trans Pride a protest.

P: Trans Pride absolutely had to be a protest. It was a protest march because there is constant, constant attacks on trans people, and it’s only growing at the moment. Y’know trans people die daily, trans people are killed or take their own lives, trans people are rejected by the healthcare system that’s supposed to help them, trans people are, are mocked in the media or attacked on social media and it’s just incessant, because… because there’s no protection. So what protection do we have? We have our own. What protections do we have but our own bodies and our own community, we had 400 people standing around us, saying, ‘this is us, we are here, we stand despite the violence’, and if those people are going to bring violence then we are going to come together and we are going to ensure that we are heard. Trans Pride had to be a protest because we’re still fighting. And if we’re not fighting, then who is? Who fights for us but us? [pause]

OT: Moving on to Leeds Pride this year.

P: 2018?

OT: 2018 – what can you tell us about that?

P: So, London Pride 2018 – I have to start with London, I’m afraid. Sadly, everything comes back to the capital. A group of, of transphobes hijacked London Pride and took to the front of the march and were not removed and distributed anti-trans – not paraphernalia, what’s the word – literature, and were all round terrible folks. So, in response, who contacted who first I don’t know. I would argue, we contacted them first but it was put to Leeds Pride that they should perhaps consider pushing trans people to the front, as an act of uplifting and empowering trans people after the debacle that was London Pride. And they did. And they did – they gave us a slot directly behind the giant flag. Us, TransLeeds, Gendered Intelligence, Leeds First Friday – which is the largest regular gathering of trans, like the largest night out for trans women in the country or something ridiculous like that, that happens in Leeds – and someone else – oh, Non-Binary Leeds. TransLeeds, Non-Binary Leeds, Leeds First Friday and Gendered Intelligence were given slots at the very, very front of the parade.

And, just before the parade happened, four LGBT activists were invited to speak on the main stage at Millennium Square. That was Jamie Fletcher, head of Non-Binary Leeds at that point, no longer; Emily… I can’t remember – Metcalfe, Emily Metcalfe, leader of Leeds Bi Group; Tom, whose surname I only know as MESMAC [Tom Doyle], cos that’s what he is on Facebook – Tom MESMAC, who is like, ridiculously high up in MESMAC, or runs MESMAC or something like that; and me, director of TransLeeds. And each of the four of us spoke in front of 12,000 people – 12,000 people! I said about a sea of faces at Trans Pride – Christ, I had no idea, that was an amazing view. Stood on a proper stage, like a performance stage, looking out across 12,000 people in the blazing sunshine. I couldn’t have imagined anything like it.

Anyway, so we led the march. And there were plans put in place in case of counter-action by transphobes. There were plans, there were strategies. We had options. Luckily, we never needed any of them, and those people ended up just marching with us – the people who were going to back us up in those cases. It was… really good, we were the first people anyone saw, in a two-hour parade. We got to Lower Briggate, the main drag where all the gay bars are, and we marched all the way up to the front to where the stage is and I turned around and everything was just trans flags and that was just so cool, that was like nothing else – I have never seen such visibility on that stretch of road for trans people in my life; I never imagined it. I couldn’t – if you told me a year ago that, that we would be – that trans people would be recognised on that scale, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have believed you, I’d have laughed in your face cos I couldn’t believe that a group of us who have for so long been pushed to one side would be held up in that way, would – y’know, I got up on that stage and I gave a talk about togetherness and community and strength and unity and… everyone cheered, 12,000 people cheered and held us up and made sure that we knew we were welcome, in a way that a lot of us have never felt welcome. A lot of us have never felt welcome on Lower Briggate and a lot of us have never felt welcome at Pride, and this year, 2018, I have never felt more welcome in my life.

OT: I’ve got two follow-up questions to that. I think I’ll start by asking you about, can you talk about some of the ally-ship that was involved around Pride this year, and how it made you fell when a lot of cis allies kind of stood up and said, ‘we’ll protect you’, as it were?

P: Yeah, I mean… So the strategies put into place to take care of the trans marchers this year, that was not spearheaded by trans people. It was guided by trans people, but it was spearheaded by a group of LGBT, particularly gay men and lesbians, visible gay men and lesbians, who recognised the problem and stood up and said, ‘right what can we do about this?’ And trans people were invited to those meetings as a, ‘are we doing this right?’ but it was put on trans people to make those steps, they stood up and went, ‘we’re doing this, we’re looking after our own’. And that was just – I’d never seen anything like it. People actually responded to a threat to the LGBT community as if we were one community. And I don’t know that I’ve ever really felt that sense of community before this year. There are people I care about from all walks of life in that acronym, but I don’t think I’ve ever really, really, really felt like that sense of togetherness in – on that scale before, y’know, whether it be those people who stood up and said, ‘we will look after you’, or whether it would be the people who were cheering for us. Y’know, those two things – cos that’s what it was, it was a group of people standing up and saying, ‘we’ll look after you. We’ll take care of you, you’re ours. You belong here’. It wasn’t the age-old story of, ‘oh, you’re getting attacked so we’ll push you to one side and pretend that you’re just over there and you’re fine cos then we don’t have to pay attention to the fact you’re being attacked’, it’s like, ‘we see you being attacked and we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen here’.

OT: Have your kinda views on Pride changed at all because of the increasing trans involvement?

P: [pause] Yes, in a very nuanced way. And I’ll take it quite slowly so that I don’t muck up. Pride should be a protest. And Leeds Pride is still primarily a party. But – the best way of making it a protest again is by going down there, by getting in that parade, and by holding up your banners that say, ‘we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere’, y’know? I – I don’t think any good comes from not going to Pride, from an organisational viewpoint. Individually, people make their own decisions, and those decisions are their own. I don’t think there’s any use organisationally in not going to Pride, because all you do by not going to Pride is you reinforce your own invisibility. If you go to Pride and you stand up and you, as an organisation you hold a flag saying, ‘hey look TransLeeds exists in Leeds and we’re really cool’, people see you, y’know, there’s kids on those barriers who see that and go, ‘holy shit, I’m like that. Y’know, there’s grown adults who see that and go, ‘holy shit, there’s people like me in this city, I can be me’. And that’s – yeah, if you’re not doing that then you’re screwing up. Organisationally, you best be there, because if you’re not, people aren’t going to see you. Individually you make your own decision. Y’know, if I wasn’t running TransLeeds I probably wouldn’t go to Pride. But I do, so I do.

OT: I just wanna come back to the speech you gave at Pride.

P: Yes.

OT: How did you decide what you were gonna say, what you were gonna talk about? Cos obviously you were addressing an audience that isn’t just trans people.

P: So, I did quite a lot of thinking about it, but I didn’t write down my ideas until three minutes before. Which is really, really standard for me, so don’t take that as me thinking that one didn’t matter. I wrote down some nice notes on my arm. You might’ve noticed me occasionally – there’s a video of it, and occasionally I’ll sort of going, ‘ah, ummm’ [laughs], which is me checking my notes. But I thought quite hard about it, and… I realised that, that saying something… there were radical things I wanted to say that would not be useful, and this is one of things I’ve really had to get used to over the last two years is diplomacy, and recognising when something is useful to say, and when it’s not useful. I mean useful – it would for instance not be useful to get up on that stage and say, ‘all y’all are fuckin’ up, y’all better be doing better this year’, y’know? What it is useful to get up and say is, ‘when we stand together in unity, we are stronger, and we support the weakest of us, no matter who they are or what their background is’. Now, I’m essentially saying the same thing there, but in a much more palatable way. And, the moderation of the language that I use at Pride – I could give the same speech at Trans Pride but change the words dramatically, and it would have the same meaning but mean something very different to a different audience. And so what it was essentially at Leeds Pride was finding the right words. And so rather than talking about failure, or hurt, or ostracization, I talked about strength in unity and the bonds of common experience, and the power that comes when we stand together, y’know, it’s positive, it’s uplifting, and it’s still saying that we need people to step up, but it’s saying it in a way that people are comfortable with.

OT: You’ve talked a little bit about using diplomacy there, could you talk a bit about the work you’ve done for TransLeeds with various different organisations, be it NHS, Council, that sort of thing?

P: We’ve done huge amounts of stuff with huge amounts of organisations. That stuff can be as simple as checking that their reporting documentation is good for trans people, y’know making sure there’s non-binary options, for instance. It can be as complex as delivering or producing training materials and… Delivering and producing training materials, and ensuring that even their line staff are trained on how to interact with trans people and ensure that they have good experiences. [pause] Those are, interestingly, not times that I’m being particularly diplomatic. I am not afraid of getting up in front of a hall of reasonably high-powered people and saying the things that need to be said. I accidentally burnt some bridges recently, with the prison service. Because I got up in front of a hall and I said that the police and the prison service are still failing trans people. And one of the equality officers got upset. But frankly, I don’t give a damn. There are times when it’s important to be diplomatic, and there are times when things need to be said. And learning the difference between those two things is important.

The people with whom it is important to be diplomatic are not the people with power. The people with power need to hear the truth. And if they’re not willing to hear the truth, then they wouldn’t be willing to hear the diplomatic version either. Because all they’d hear is… nothing. They’d just hear niceties, y’know. If you turn round to someone in power and said, ‘we need to be unified and have strength together and do these things together’, they’re gonna hear, ‘ah yeah we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing’. If you sit down with someone in power and go, ‘here are the specific points where your organisation is absolutely failing’, they will hear, ‘ah, here’s the places where we need to make a change’. And if they respond to that with, ‘ah, I don’t like hearing this and I’m gonna not talk to you again’, they weren’t gonna listen to anything. It’s the people on the street who need to hear the diplomacy. It’s the people on the street who need to hear, ‘we can all do better, we can all unify and be stronger together’, because those are the people who’re gonna turn around to their co-workers and go, ‘trans people are just like us’, y’know?

I’m less radical than I once was. I’m less angry than I once was. I’m tired of fighting, in a way that I didn’t think I’d ever be. I’m still fighting, and I’m still gonna go on fighting, but… I’ve got a lot better at picking my battles, and there are battles that don’t need to be had on a sunny Pride afternoon, d’y’know?

OT: Does it – can you talk a bit more about the kind of frustration and anger when you’re in those sorts of situations and you don’t get listened to?

P: Which sort of situations?

OT: For example, with like the police and the prison service.

P: Oh, um. Yeah, the… I mean it’s, it’s… it’s intensely frustrating to be able to present an organisation with facts drawn from their own resources and… have them be able to go, ‘oh we’ll deal with that eventually’ or ‘it’s not a priority right now’, it’s like why isn’t it a priority? Why isn’t everything a priority? Why – it’s very easy, currently, for statutory services to be able to turn around and say, ‘we don’t have the budget’. The problem is, a lot of the time we’re not particularly asking for much. And I’m… intensely frustrated with some organisations that just don’t seem to understand that they haven’t gone far enough yet. They feel that, that because they’ve made some baby steps that they’re fine now. Y’know, oh okay, you’ve set up a review board, oh okay, y’know you’ve changed your policy, but your policy’s still not good, it might be better but it’s not good. And you still need to put things in place to make sure people are safe, y’know.

The police are… I have been dealing with the police for two years. And in those two years they have repeatedly promised to update and retrain their frontline staff, as in street coppers, so that they would understand how better to respond to incidents either involving trans people as victims or as perpetrators, because it all stems from an incident where a young person was trying to report an incident, to report a crime, and they were faced with transphobia from repo- from the officers who came to take a statement. And two years on, there have been no definite steps to resolve anything like that – two years down the line, and there’s been nothing. I’ve offered to write training, I’ve filmed a training video. I have offered to deliver training. Y’know, you get me in a room with 50 bobbies and I will tell them what’s up. But no. There’s no organisational impetus to change. Because power suits them. And they can always hold that power. Because until – because if they back down, if they step back and say, ‘okay we’re fucking up’, they lose that power. They also don’t like the fact that I don’t respect them. But maybe they shouldn’t have become coppers.

OT: Going back to the kind of ally-ship around pride, I wonder if you could talk about how you got involved with Wharf Chambers and how that kind of led you to getting involved in kind of more broader activism in Leeds, broader than trans-specific activism?

P: I dunno really. I’m not really involved in broader activism. I am a little, but not hugely. So the thing with Wharf is that – I started going there just as a regular, and then TransLeeds started having some events there, so we had like karaoke and we had a film and food night, which were all well and good. And then I was seeing someone who worked there and I got offered a couple of shifts, and then I got offered a contract, I started working there. But I don’t – what do you mean by involved in wider activism?

OT: It was more like that through Wharf is, a lot of those allies at Pride, they’re involved with Wharf, and like how you kind of – I’m wondering whether kind of you say that it was almost a surprise, or a pleasant surprise, that they showed up at Pride for us. I’m wondering whether that was almost provoked by TransLeeds and yourself getting involved with Wharf, essentially.

P: No, it, sorry it wasn’t a surprise that they turned up at Pride. It was… I was overjoyed to see them taking the first step. To see them doing the thing where they went, ‘what do we need to do at Pride?’ That’s – the people who turned up are not people I was surprised to find were allies, it was that first step, it was encouraging. Just to make that clear. The thing with – there’s a lot of people I’ve met through Wharf. But equally, they’re people who I would have ended up meeting through MESMAC or through other work, like it’s all really heavily interconnected – on a scale that I could never imagine. Like, like, the crossover webs of this city – this city is a small place, the queer community, even smaller. So y’know you end up knowing everyone. I know way more people than I ever thought I would, y’know. Someone goes, ‘have you met X?’ and I’m like, ‘yep, yep they drink in my bar’, or, ‘yep met them at a meeting’, or dadadada, y’know, all these things. And… Wharf’s really interesting, cos it’s, it’s… never quite made up its mind what it is. It’s a bar. And it’s just a bar. But sometimes it’s not just a bar, sometimes it’s really politically important, and that makes it very complicated [interruption] But yes – Wharf good, important, connecting. I was done, pretty much. Have you got any last questions? I can speed through some stuff.

OT: I guess, unless you can think of something else, I think unless there’s anything else you really wanna say.

P: Ah yeah, one last thing I would like to say, actually, for the record, is: I don’t want anyone to hear this and think that TransLeeds is just me or was ever just me. I owe so much to so many people. People who were openly involved in TransLeeds and people who weren’t openly involved in TransLeeds. People who turned up for three sessions and gave me some good ideas. People who did things wrong and showed me that I could do things differently, y’know. People – partners, friends, other people – TransLeeds was never the work of just me. Even in the early days it was not just me. It has always been more than just me, and… if anything ever… comes of an understanding of the history of TransLeeds it’s that you can’t do this sort of thing alone. That’s ridiculous. There are so many people involved in it, and I couldn’t have ever done half of the things I’ve done without them.