“My pronouns are... he/they?” Laz Lightning says in an unsure tone, then pauses. “Actually, they are ‘O, onun.’” The pronoun “o”, translating to singular “they”, is universal for everyone in the Turkish language, and even though Laz is laughing as they say it, their confidence shifts as they embrace the language of their heritage.
It is 8 July 2023, a Saturday thick with rain and teasing thunderstorms. Thousands of trans people, intersex people and allies have gathered under a grey sky to protest for London Trans Pride 2023. Many people are talking about fear, solidarity and community care. Many more share that they feel that Pride should reclaim its roots as a protest.
Laz is marching with a group called Harem of No One, a Swana (South West Asian and North African) collective of drag and cabaret artists, based in London. Beside Laz is Toby, described by Laz as Harem of No One’s “Baba producer”. “We are marching for trans rights and our existence is valid,” they say.
“We are also standing in solidarity with our siblings back in Turkey, and other places where Pride is banned and there is police violence when people are trying to celebrate and self-express. We are marching for those who cannot march in safety and without meeting violence.” The group chants in Turkish, passes a fez around people’s heads, and plays drums joyfully.
Tuna from Queer Arts Projects compares Trans Pride London to the protests in Istanbul, where she is from. “This is politically relevant, this is real activism, this is real community and we are so happy to be a part of it.”
Jude and Delair also feel the solidarity of the march. “I’m here today because I went to big Pride, and it’s not what it once was,” says Jude. “It’s not actually for political change any more... it feels like a bit of a walking billboard for corporations, especially in London.”
“I want to actually stand by people who really need change and liberation, and this is what this Pride does”, Jude says.
“Trans rights are in danger right now more than ever,” Delair chips in. “I’m exploring my own gender journey,” they share. “I think Pride being a protest is important, and the mainstream only celebrate it when they make money off of it – that shouldn’t be the case. It should be about people’s liberation and freedom, and that’s why we’re here.”
“There are so many people who think we have our rights won for us, and that Pride is just a celebration, when trans people are actually fighting for their political freedom,” says Ruth, who is marching in solidarity with her trans loved ones. “Not everyone in the queer community understands that we are not all equal, we are not all as free as we should be.”
“The trans community is such a small minority, but it doesn’t mean that their rights are any less valid,” Ruth adds. “The billionaires are a tiny minority and they still protect their rights.”
Heather is also at Trans Pride in solidarity. “I’m here as a lesbian, as a dyke, and I think there’s a lot in the media that stipulates that we [trans people and lesbians] are against each other and that’s just not true. The lesbian community has always been in solidarity with some of the most marginalised members of our community, and I’m really proud to be a part of that. The majority of lesbians are up for trans rights, and we want to stand with trans people.”
T Southwell came out as trans just a few months ago. “In those months I’ve had death threats, I’ve been harassed, I’ve been verbally abused, all in public. I’ve been ostracised by my family. I’m here for myself and to support others.”
T describes the isolation that many trans community members can feel. “I’ve always felt quite lonely, and I’m a recovering drug addict, and at the London NA [Narcotics Anonymous] convention this year we had our first ever trans and non-binary meeting, which was awesome. I’m secretary of an online 12-step recovery meeting called Gender Splendour, which is for people in recovery from anything,” they say, wanting to reach out to other trans people.
In such a small community, it’s rare for trans people to be surrounded by others like them. “It’s really nice to be surrounded by so many trans people,” Raks says. They are a non-binary DJ and creative. “It’s not often you see this many trans and gender-non-conforming people in one space, so it feels powerful knowing that you’re not alone and the number of people that are here to back you, and the number of different movements too.”
Izzy stands with a sign that celebrates trans people in football. “I’m here to hear more trans voices,” they say. “This debate, that doesn’t need to be a debate, is completely dominated by people outside of the community who aren’t affected first-hand.”
Their friend Heather stands beside them. “I hope more people spend time finding out how joyful transitioning can be for trans people, and that it provides euphoria, ecstasy and keeps people alive,” she says.
“That’s what we’re fighting for today – keeping people alive and making people happy. This isn’t a philosophical debate, this is real people’s experiences, whether they live or die – and we need to all get behind trans people,” Heather adds.
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