As a transgender woman, I find that abuse is something that comes with the territory. It is not right that I should endure any abuse by simply trying to live my life in the way I find comfortable but the sad reality is that it does exist and I have had to develop strategies to deal with it. I also push my partner around in a wheelchair, and many will be shocked to find that she is sometimes subject to some forms of abuse. This is often much more subtle and less noticeable but it is still quite prevalent. We are also a same gender couple, lesbians in fact, and we have multiple reasons for attracting attention.
It was four years ago, July 2010, that I made my first steps in public in Bristol. I have encountered small levels of abuse in that time but nothing really serious. They ranged from the sniggering designed to draw attention to me to comments like "tranny" and "bloke in a dress". For my partner and her disability, we encounter stares and hostility towards the wheelchair. This has extended to abuse, particularly when people have to get out of our way when blocking our path. She also has to tolerate an age issue, people seem to think she is too young to be sat in a wheelchair.
Up to now, I have never felt the need to report anything because it has not affected me enough to warrant doing so. However, as time goes by, I find myself hearing more stories of much more serious levels of hatred and I have realised that perhaps I need to start being proactive in trying to reduce levels of abuse on the streets.
This weekend has seen some abuse towards myself that I felt it was time to do something and report it. This was no ordinary abuse, it was malicious and designed to provoke a reaction. It was clear to me that a confrontation was sought following the abuse however, it did not go quite to plan for the person(s) involved.
I can't go into all the full details, it will become clear why at the end.
We walked into Taunton town on Saturday morning, via the canal as we have done virtually every weekend since moving to Taunton. At Firepool lock, I noticed two people sat at a bench by the lock gates. I thought nothing of this and we continued towards the river. Within a few yards of passing these people, I was subject to some pretty transphobic abuse that was clearly aimed at me. I let the first tirade pass, but it then continued and I turned and confirmed that it was being directed at me. I continued moving along the path, whilst it was still being hurled at me and when I had reached a safe distance, I decided to ring the police and report it as an incident.
You have two choices if you wish to ring the police for this purpose in the UK. If you are in danger and need emergency assistance then you would dial 999 (or 112). This will get you straight to an emergency operator with no queues or menu options. If there is no immediate danger, you can call 101 instead which is the dedicated police enquiry line for the area you are in. When using a landline, you are given and option of checking that you want to call the police force for the area the line is installed. If you are using a mobile phone, you are given different options because the phone system determines your approximate location from the phone mast you are connected to and you may actually be in another area.
I felt at the time, I was in between safe and danger and decided on 101 and to report it as a hate incident and not a crime. I was connected and started the process of logging the event and giving descriptions. Whilst doing so, a car was dispatched and en-route. This surprised me, as I was just looking to log the event not actually get it investigated. I was also asked to move further away from the area for my safety, so whilst talking on the phone I managed to move the wheelchair with one hand towards a busier public area. Eventually the call ended and we awaited someone to come and speak to us.
We waited a reasonable time, and I heard some shouting from where the incident had happened. I could make out a white car over there as well as hearing some loud shouting. The guilty parties were obviously not to happy at the harassment being turned around and being given back to them! A PCSO found us and took our details, I gave them a time when we would be back home and we then carried on with our business in town.
We got back midday and then waited for someone to contact us. We waited, and waited and eventually an operator rang us to say that someone would definitely be with us by the evening. We went to bed eventually and I got up the next morning to find a missed call on my mobile indicating they had rung me at 22.50! I was also asked to ring back on 101 by text message and give a time when I could give my statement that day. I ignored this, it was starting to become a pain in my backside and I was losing confidence in the whole system. Again, at 8.00 I got another text message hassling me so I rang 101 and gave my incident number. I then apologised to the operator for what I was about to tell him, and then proceed to have a rant about how I, the victim, was the one being put out the most in the whole episode. I had a very small window of availability on Sunday due to having to take a friend to Cornwall for an operation and gave them a three hour opportunity - 11.00 - 14.00.
I had pretty much given up by the time an officer arrived, but she was prompt at 11.00 exactly. I must admit, I felt she had been chosen given how concerned and sensitive she was to our situation. She gave me some facts about the parties concerned, they were well known to the police but this was the first trans related incident. I then gave my statement and my description of the people involved. Something I did note, was that how I felt was asked and how it affected. It was also explained to me that they were considering this a crime and not an incident but the sad reality was that my statement and description were not good enough to have any promise of success in court. I did agree with this and accepted that it was only going to go as far as awareness. She was keen not to influence me in my decision, but I am only too aware that you need serious evidence to pursue prosecutions and what we had was too flaky. The parties were going to be "talked to" and my evidence held on record in case a bigger profile was built. She left, giving me the details of the officer who handles LGBT issues for our area. She also rang me on Monday and left a message confirming all of this and a reference number.
What can I take from all this? Firstly, I would without hesitation go through all this again if I had to. This was a pretty offensive piece of abuse and as I said, engineered to provoke a reaction. The reaction they got was unexpected and I take some small measure of satisfaction in pissing them off!
I was disappointed that I was messed around by the police on Saturday. Although they made up for this by the attitude of the officer on Sunday, I still felt very put out that as a victim, I had to sit and wait for them. I have spoken to other trans-people about hate crime and heard some horrific stories. Yet very few ever report any of these crimes or incidents. Some of the stories I have heard include serious threats of violence, and yet it was not worth the hassle of reporting.
I also felt very aware that my descriptions of the individuals involved were inadequate and in the future, I need to make myself take more note of what harassers look like. I also need to remember better what has been said so that statements can be stronger. One thing about Saturday was that it took me completely by surprise. I have had no trans abuse whatsoever for many weeks, if not months, because my appearance has become much more feminine with the hormonal changes and significant weight loss. It came so unexpectedly, and by the time I was aware of what was happening, I was already too far from the perpetrators to be able to get a good look at them.
I have also written to a Somerset hate crime organisation, suggesting that the whole process needs to be improved with victims in mind.
To finish off, whilst the process was not perfect, I was happy with the response I got. I was very keen not to let this get to me, and Sunday we walked the same route again. No one was there this time, but today when going past there they were. They would not even look at me and not a word was uttered. Whether the message has gotten through, I do not know. I seriously doubt it, and I know there was drink and drugs involved on Saturday, so they may not even remember what they did. I also noticed today that they have moved away from the lock a little and into a more secluded area, away from the path.
I would urge anyone that has had abuse like this or worse, to report it without hesitation. It's a hassle, but nothing will change if nothing is done.