Imagine for one moment if you felt so uneasy with your gender and all that it defines about your identity that you were prepared to undergo the hormone treatment and intimate surgery that trans people face. Imagine the conviction you would have to feel about that decision to commit to such a physical and psychological journey. Imagine the unhappiness you would have to have borne to get to that point and the courage needed to reveal your decision. Most of all imagine how much you would need a few constants in your life, like, say, your work.
From the moment a baby is born, their gender determines a huge amount about how they are treated. Neuroscientistslike Cordelia Fine tell us there are few if any differences in the newborn brains of boys and girls and that it is we who affect their development by treating them differently. On the other side of the room, parents of both boys and girls will insist that they are chalk and cheese from the moment they take their first breath. If you consider that pink was for boys and blue for girls as recently as the early 1900’s you see how random stereotypes and norms can be. The factors which determine our gender identity, our attitudes to others and our sexual orientation are so complex the scientists aren’t even close to agreeing. So how crazy is it that some people feel able to ram their own ideas of “normal” down the rest of our throats?
Every day I watch my little daughter, Brontë, now two and a half, and see how innocent and kind human nature starts out and how little we know or care about the differences between people until adult biases and prejudicespoison our minds. When we first tuned into CBeebies Brontë and I fell in love with its presenter Cerrie Burnell. Cerrie was born with one arm about which my very vocal child never once remarked. I love the fact that Cerrie is on the BBC showing her tiny viewers that disability is a normal part of everyday life. When another mum told me about the furore her appointment to CBeebies had triggered among some viewers and in the press I was horrified. A google search threw up comments like: “Is it just me, or does anyone else think the new woman presenter on CBeebies may scare the kids because of her disability?”.
With no offence to Cerrie, she couldn’t scare a fly, but the bigotry about her one arm scared me that my child will witness this type of prejudice against “abnormality” as she goes out into the world. Prejudice like Lucy Meadows encountered.
Whatever the circumstances of her death, rumoured to be suicide, there is no question that she was treated cruelly by at least one parent and several newspapers. It is too late to stand up for her but it is not too late to stand up to those who made her life so much more painful by questioning her “normality”, her suitability for her chosen profession of teaching and, ultimately, her humanity. How vulnerable and lonely she must have felt transitioning under such a harsh glare of publicity. To be accused of disturbing the children in her classroom must have been devastating.
Lucy’s suicide will be harder for her pupils to understand than her transition. If, as it appears, this death is attributable to prejudice, it is a tragedy which demeans us all. Ultimately, it is not the Lucy’s of this world who frighten or hurt our children but those who portray them as abnormal.