Polly: Staying Alive
A trans reader responds to one of the points I raised in a recent 10 Things email.
I received this email after I published last Friday’s 10 Things email. Reading it made me realise that this perspective and voices like Polly’s are missing from this ‘debate’, and I was glad for the opportunity to reconsider the way I think about and discuss this issue. So I asked Polly if I could publish her letter in full, which is what I’m sharing today.
Looking Sideways is proudly ad-free, and reader and listener supported. Thanks to all my paid subscribers, who help keep the podcast and newsletter free for everybody. To join the thousands of people who receive this newsletter every week, and support Looking Sideways with a free or paid subscription, click below:
So this email may wind up being rambly as I'm on a train. But having received the latest 10 Things mail this morning, I wanted to reach out about my reality and the ongoing debate about my right to exist that is being passed off as a philosophical debate across society.
My name is Polly. I am a 48 year old transwoman. I work as a bike messenger and I have surfed since I was 17. I was taught to surf by old school Irish watermen who were also mentors in a two-year outdoor instructor apprenticeship. I have never competed in anything as I have no interest in competition, and I have no desire for the only safe places I've ever known to be turned into mirrors of society.
When I transitioned, I lost a 20-year career in outdoor education which also included the loss of people that I had spent years travelling with both to surf and kayak rivers. Do I regret it? Not at all. In myself, I'm the happiest I've ever been. I still surf, I still sail and I can ride a bike like a maniac.
The debate stopped being about sport participation a long time ago, if it even ever was. My reality is so far removed from the whole thing that at this point the dissonance created by it is at the point of being overwhelming, and weekly it becomes harder and harder to marry up who I am with how I'm being talked about. It's too late to worry about othering me. I'm already othered. Water, bikes and skateboards taught me everything good about myself, and to be in a place where I’m constantly told I'm not allowed those things is harrowing.
I don’t know if any of this is particularly coherent. What I do know is while people continue to scream that I'm a monster, I'll still be bodysurfing and snorkelling amongst the cold water breaks of Scotland and I'll still be skating and bouldering and living off my bike chasing stoke, and when I do stay still I'll be making hand planes in the back garden.
Got a story you want to run to pitch me? Let me know - I pay for contributions. And if you have any thoughts on today’s post, let me know in the comments.
Thanks for writing , Polly, and for publishing, Matt. Polly, your experience resonates with my observations of three people I love in the world. As they are who they really are, and live happier lives as a consequence, others use their courage and vulnerability as a means to discriminate and bring more cruelty into our already brutal societal norms. Mandela said in his book Long Walk to Freedom “A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it's lowest ones”. We are not doing so well on that front. I’m not sure what makes many of us in the dominant culture blind to the fact that most of us regardless of sexuality, gender, race want essentially the same things- to love and be loved, to be safe and financially viable.