Friday, 5 November 2010

Remembering Sonia


The one solace in death is that if you live your life well, you will be remembered for it. That the person you have created yourself to be will be recalled fondly at your funeral. However, transgendered lawyer Sonia Burgess, tragically killed last week under the wheels of a tube train, hasn’t been given this privilege. A hugely respected human rights lawyer who was, from the rush of praise being sent in after her death, clearly loved by everyone who met her. Yet the British press is portraying her life and death as a hugely seedy matter, as if the only thing more shocking than someone being pushed under a train is that the said person was wearing women’s clothing. I can’t abide reading as the papers insist on calling her by her birth name of David and referring to her as ‘he’ throughout their coverage when this is so clearly what she would have hated.
You may wonder how I, a 25-year-old straight female, could possibly understand how Sonia would feel if she could read the articles dismissing her true identity. But I can, for when I originally read the story I was shaking so hard I had to sit down. For Sonia with her well-respected career, loving family could have been my Dad.

If you’ve ever had a conversation with my Dad or seen one of her plays you’ll realize why it is no exaggeration when I say that I could not have asked for a better parent. I have been raised phenomenally (if I do say so myself!) and have never, ever felt unloved. I’ve been taught so much and have never had to be ashamed of who I am. My Dad however hasn’t been as lucky. Conceived during her parents' mourning for the premature baby girl they had lost, my dad was carried in a womb that was suffused with longing for another girl.

She grew up in a state of terrible confusion: trying to make sense of a deep feeling that somehow this wasn't the body she was supposed to be in. Her feelings became clearer to her as she failed to bond with her father whilst growing up and was packed away to an all boys boarding school where there was nothing worse than being effeminate. Bullied badly the only place where she felt confident was on the stage, where her girlish looks earned her the female parts. Happiest when wearing a wig she quickly realized why she felt so uncomfortable in her male body. This revelation brought relief but also fear, being transgendered back then was so unknown there wasn’t even a word for it, never mind people who she could reach out to, people who understood. It was only forty years later, coming out to her friends and family that she stopped feeling ashamed and discovered that there were people who understood her and loved her for exactly who she is.

My Dad, being in the public eye, has had her fair share of being in the papers. Only recently she attracted 250 protestors to the opening of her new play – Jesus Queen of Heaven – that she starred in, playing a transgendered Jesus. During this time there were certain papers (prizes for guessing which ones!) who refused to name her in the female pronoun. Considering her wardrobe full of women’s clothes, her female body and a passport which under ‘sex’ has a proud, and unquestionable ‘F” this is transphobia in its worst form. It amazes me that we live in such a supposedly progressive country, that is finally beginning to accept other people’s cultures and beliefs, yet is still so backward in its treatment of transgendered people.

My Dad has had people coming up to her on the street and asking whether her hair is a wig, had junkies singing abusive songs after her and school children yelling ‘it looks like a man’ after her. Because of this type of abuse many transgendered people fear leaving the house. And what has happened to Sonia Burgess and the way the press have reported on her death isn’t helping them open the door.

I have read a couple of posts on the internet, with people commenting that Sonia’s sex shouldn’t be an issue, that the only thing people should be worried about is the loss of someone, who from the sound of it, was truly inspirational. This is a good sign, it shows people aren’t being as influenced by Rupert Murdoch as he would like. However, there needs to be more awareness, more transgendered role models like my Dad and I hope that, in the dark of Sonia’s tragic death, there is light as people being to see, when they hear the words ‘transgendered woman’ not a clich├ęd drag Queen dancing on speed at a fetish night but a strong, inspirational woman who has overcome her fear of being truly herself.