A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH
Images: Eivind Hansen
I first met Paris at the HISKIND Presents: Dean event last year. After following her on social media and always agreeing and relating to her opinions and writing; it was an honour to be able to interview her for our first issue. Paris Lees is at the front of the battle. Taking on bigots in the press, online and in everyday life. This of course, takes its toll personally, but her kindness and motivation will always eliminate hate. paris lees is a force to be reckoned with.
Do you think that feminism is key to the fight for transgender people's liberation?
Absolutely. In America and in the UK, the majority of feminists are trans-inclusive and support trans-rights 100%. The two are inextricably intertwined. There is a problem with a small but dedicated group of people who are obsessed with trans people that are claiming to be feminists in the same the same way that you have the Westboro Baptist Church claims that its religion that is enabling them to be vile to the LGBTQ+ community. I don't think that feminism is an excuse for bigotry any more than religion is an excuse for bigotry.
Germaine Greer said, "Just because you lop off your penis and then wear a dress doesn't make you a fucking woman," that was about 2 years ago. Greer claims to be a feminist, but what is that other than bullying?
I think that it is shocking and disappointing, as I don't think that Greer has been a darling of the left and liberals. Most feminist organisations and coalitions across the UK are supportive. For example, domestic violence shelters for women have long since worked out how to welcome trans women into their services. So, these imagined problems that people keep coming up with are not coming from the prisons, or domestic violence shelters, or whatever situation a trans person is placed into, more often than not, it's pure speculation. It's disappointing.
Towards the end of 2017, the mainstream media went on a daily attack against the trans community. Where did this stem from?
Any group of marginalised people who have fought for their rights have faced a backlash at some point. We've seen it with women's rights, civil rights, and gay rights, so it's a very painful part of the process. Why now in particular? I feel that ostensibly it's all about the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA), but a lot of the conversations we're having aren't about that. Such as trans kids or toilets; this legislation won't affect them so why are we talking about it? It's become an excuse to have a public discussion about the legitimacy of trans people and if they should be equal members of society and being treated with respect. It's unedifying and disgraceful. It's the same way the gay marriage debate became not about gay people marrying, but rather should they be considered and legitimate members of society. Thankfully we won that argument, but it just became an excuse for people to come out with ridiculous homophobia. We're seeing that now, and it's a backlash against genuine progress that is and has been made.
What's so annoying is that we're having a discussion that reflects those people's silly prejudices, stereotypes, and information that they got from other people like them, who don't know a trans person. What we should be having is an urgent public debate about the 48% (according to Stonewall UK) of young trans people in Britain that have attempted suicide. Not thought about, attempted. Why is that not across the cover of newspapers? Our country has a problem and isn't addressing such a vulnerable group of people being driven to suicide. That's fucked up.
The drag community and the use of transphobic language, how can the drag community change to become a better ally for transgender people?
I don't want to get too bogged down in language as it's not about banning certain words, but there is the issue of respect. What disappoints me is somebody like RuPaul using the word 'tranny,' and I understand where that comes from. He comes from a very gender-bending, anything goes background, and that's a word he has used for years and maybe it wasn't a problem back then. But look at where we are now and if somebody like Ru Paul used their platform to speak out for what is right maybe others would follow too.
A lot of people do start as drag queens before transitioning as that's their way of expressing their feminine side. Drag queens can make fantastic allies as they feel a kinship in being non-conforming. Rather than using that to be offensive, why not use that to stand in solidarity with your trans siblings? We have to do this. It's life or death in being yourself. I invite drag queens to champion our rights as natural allies.
What's next for you?
2018 is the year of Paris Lees. I've decided I'm going to have a good year. In 2017, I dealt with a lot of loss and spent some time soul-searching. I'm from a council estate, I wasn't meant to have any of this. I’ve been thinking about where I want to take this next, and that starts with me. Trans activism is urgent. I can't speak on behalf of all of the community but I hope my voice can push against the misinformation and hatred against trans people.
I have a book coming out in the summer of 2018 and a campaign with the United Nations that aims to raise awareness of violence against women. I'm going to be in Vogue in a feature celebrating 100 years since women got the right to vote.
I'm keen to ensure trans women's voices are included in the conversation on women's rights. It's an interesting time for the community and I'm grateful we have so many other trans people who have voices in public life. Stonewall, a well-funded and respected organisation has become trans-inclusive and that is one of the best things that has happened for trans people in this country.
Also, people like Owen Jones, Patrick Strudwick and Matthew Todd are using their media platform to be a trans ally. Gay men get it, they know how it feels to be bullied. It's a similar dynamic. Alongside young feminists, people on the left, sensible people on the right. There is a lot of work to do and I feel invigorated and in a better place. I'm glad to have 2017 behind. 2018 is my year and I’m going to slay.
author: Harry Joe Nettleton