Community News

OPINION: Transitioning with Sugar: Ms Sugar Swan asks what the LGBTQIA community means to her

Ms Sugar Swan February 27, 2018

This month’s Gscene theme is community and having lived, worked and volunteered within the local queer community for the last 17 years I have very mixed feelings about the community and what it means to me.

When I moved to Brighton, a fresh-faced early 20-something, I threw myself into the local community. Presenting at the time as a cis bisexual male, although read by the majority as gay, and being white, I felt that I very much belonged and the community was set up around and for people like me.

I was welcomed with open arms and this was of great comfort after growing up in places that weren’t as liberal. I enjoyed working in scene venues, going to many charity events, performing at them in drag, which was something I used to do at the time both to earn money and to help relieve my gender dysphoria.

When my HIV diagnosis came a couple of years later, I found the HIV community. I found Open Door (yes, I’m going back a few years now), where I was supported by Gary and his team who went on to create Lunch Positive. I’m off there to volunteer this afternoon to do food prep for the Community Lunch day at the B RIGHT ON LGBT Community Festival. If anyone finds a two-inch long pink fingernail in their food, I apologise in advance, but a girl’s got standards.

I found great support from Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and the HIV+ community of Brighton back in those early days. From my position of privilege and being young at the time, I thought the ‘gay community’ of Brighton was the most accepting and wonderful thing I had ever had the incredible fortune to find. Once I was settled into my HIV diagnosis it was time for me to give back and I worked at THT for a number of years giving my support and experience to those who needed it most.

As the years went by I’ve watched us lose community members to illness or accident, the most important one to me being the death of one of the few to ever get as close to me as he did, Mouse. His death was no different to any other I watched in the community with everyone rallying around, pulling that circle in tight, sticking together when times got tough as that’s what communities do, right?

I’ve watched the most beautiful gestures as people donated to pay for funeral costs when we lost those without family or financial back up, there’s rarely a time I can remember when we weren’t fundraising for something or other for someone or some marginalised group and that hasn’t changed. That is the Brighton scene at its very best.

It was only when I was ready to tackle my own gender identity and came out first as non-binary, then as a trans woman, then as lesbian, and then as pansexual, that I started to see the cracks in our community that had been there all along. I was no longer the safe option. I was no longer the ‘cis white gay man’ who’s always been so well catered to. I lost that privilege and now found myself in one of our most marginalised groups. One would hope that it’s our most marginalised and oppressed members that receive the most support, but I very quickly realised this isn’t the case. As I rapidly approach my 40s as a trans woman, Brighton’s LGBTQIA community means something very different to me than it did almost 20 years ago.

I no longer feel that it’s the safe space for me that it once was. I no longer feel that I’m rooted right in the middle of it as I was. I’m very much fighting from the sidelines now rather than from the core. I’ve suffered a lot of adversity and oppression from within the very ranks that I was an integral part of. I’ve suffered much verbal, physical and sexual abuse from the very demographic that I was so proud of once upon a time many years ago. This has led me to find a new community, the trans community, and finding that was possibly one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

In the trans community I’m welcome without question, these are my people. These are the people who’ve all felt the oppression from the rest of the scene and been abused in similar or identical ways to which I have. If I felt the greater community pulled ranks and looked after its own in times of trouble, I had seen nothing until I saw the trans community do it. I’m so lucky to be part of this network of people, not just in this city, but world-wide; and I’m so proud to be an out trans woman who is just trying to do her best for her community as she did pre-transition, albeit coming from a different angle.

I still fight the fight, I still do as much for my community as I can. I hold space in Gscene every month along with my other trans-related activism and advocacy work. Helping other trans people is now very much my priority and I’ll always fight for my community in whatever way I can. A lot of my work also involves educating cis people in the struggles that we as trans people face and that’s the harder part of the job as although we have some wonderful allies within the greater community my biggest oppressor is still the white cis gay man.

I do my best to help him learn about us and what we go through and I do it in the sole belief that it may help to reduce, for other trans people, the negative experiences and the oppression and abuse I’ve suffered at their hands. But there’s only so much that myself, or the trans community can do.

So, in this month’s Community Issue, I call on all cis people to support your trans siblings, to become better allies to us. To learn about us, to understand us better, to teach each other if you’re an ally in a position to do that. To call out transphobia when you hear it between cis people even when there are no trans people around. To NEVER misgender us or mention our dead names if you hold that privilege of knowing them and to elevate us, the most marginalised of our society, back in the middle of the community where we belong, for as well you know, without trans people, there would be no community in the first place.

Learn your history, and respect it – and remember, Google is your friend, use it.

“One would hope that it’s our most marginalised and oppressed members that receive the most support, but I very quickly realised this isn’t the case.”