We interviewed YouTuber Shannon Beveridge

DtL: Hi Shannon! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Shannon: I can definitely try! My names Shannon Beveridge, originally from Dallas, TX currently trying to survive in the big/beautiful city of Los Angeles. I’m a full time “YoutTuber” and coffee enthusiast.

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so what happened and how did you overcome it?
Shannon: I feel very fortunate to have avoided a lot of that nonsense both in my personal life and online presence. I mean don’t get me wrong, coming from the south and then going straight to a very conservative college, there were definitely some murmurs behind my back every now and again, but the important people in my life (aka my family and friends) were so supportive that I barely heard those whispers at all. I think that’s really the trick when it comes to bullying, to only value the opinions of the people around you who love you and truly care about you.

“I am very blessed to have an amazing family and also great friends who love me for all that I am, including gay”

 

DtL: What advice would you give to those that are being bullied?
Shannon: Keep your head up! Everything is temporary. There are so many good people in this world, don’t give up on that.

DtL: Do you have a coming out story? If so can you share it with us?
Shannon: I do have a coming out story! I’ve actually made two separate videos about it on my channel:

But basically in a nutshell I am very blessed to have an amazing family and also great friends who love me for all that I am, including gay.

DtL: What are the best and worst things about being a YouTube sensation?
Shannon: Oh my gosh… YouTube sensation is V generous. The best thing about having a channel is just being able to connect to so many people all over the world and spread a message that I needed to hear so desperately when I was younger. It’s funny because that message isn’t anything crazy, just that you can be yourself and life can be good. How simple?

The worst thing.. ah I don’t know. Honestly it’s kind of similar to the best thing. Feeling a responsibility to all those people you’re talking to every week. In a way, I sometimes feel like I’m their big sister or something, and I just never want to let them down.

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Shannon: Lol could I just send you to my YouTube channel?! Lol kidding, kidding. I’d want to tell myself so much but if I had to get it down to just a short message.. “Believe it or not, everything is going to be okay.” I think that’s all I ever really needed to know.

“I’m just happy that I could make anyone feel even just the slightest bit better about who they are”

 

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Shannon: Oh jeez… thanks to my followers I feel like I have had so many moments to be proud of. I think that no matter what milestone I reach or nomination I receive or views I get, or any of that nonsense, the one thing I will always be most proud of is that I helped someone. If all of this ended tomorrow I’m just happy that I could make anyone feel even just the slightest bit better about who they are.

DtL: What does the future hold for Shannon?
Shannon: To quote my last answer… I very much so hope this doesn’t all end tomorrow lol. I love what I do and I hope to keep doing it for as long as people will tolerate my presence online. I hope this year I’ll get to tackle some bigger projects too, not sure what they will be yet or if I’m ready to give any spoilers but definitely stay tuned.

“Thank you to Ditch the Label for spreading such a positive message to the world 🙂 I’m all for it!”

 

DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
Shannon: Be patient with yourself. You don’t have to have it all figured out overnight. Be kind to yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. Be proud of yourself. You are so brave for being honest with yourself and trying to figure yourself out, it can be so hard.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Shannon: Just a thank you to Ditch the Label for spreading such a positive message to the world 🙂 I’m all for it!

‘I work in a very competitive field and a field where I am a double minority – as a woman and a queer person’ – we interviewed comedian Cameron Esposito

DtL: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Cameron: I’m a standup comic, actor, writer, wife, lesbian and woman.

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Cameron: I wouldn’t. I had a pretty terrible time coming out – things were hard at school, in my family, even in my own heart and mind. And it sounds trite, but I wouldn’t change it. It was the most difficult time of my life but it helped me to feel what it’s like to be truly alone and to live on the fringes. It made me a more compassionate person. Well, I guess if I had to go back in time, maybe I’d go back to Florence, Italy in 2003 and not eat that one particular scoop of strawberry gelato. That stuff gave me food poisoning.

“I had a pretty terrible time coming out”

 

DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?
Cameron: I work in a very competitive field and a field where I am a double minority – as a woman and a queer person. It can be isolating and demoralising, though most often I love my work. I overcome this challenge by never forgetting who I am doing this for – other queer folks, my wife, myself. I don’t have to please everyone, succeed all the time, get every job. I just have to stay true to my mission to create safer spaces and better representation for queer folks.

DtL: What is it like to be gay in 2016 and what needs to change?
Cameron: Awesome. I am in love with being queer, with queer culture and with self-exploration and openness. We are such a strong community and working together we can disrupt this horrible trend towards anti-trans bathroom laws, end conversion therapy once and for all and prove to those still coming out that life can and will be good to them.

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DtL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.
Cameron: Yes. I went to a college that did not include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy – essentially, students could be kicked out of school for being gay and being out. That policy menaced and bullied queer students to stay in the closet, to hate and distrust our own feelings and hearts. I got through with the support and love of my then-girlfriend, also a student at that school, who chanced coming out to her friends and was well-received. She pushed me to love myself.

“I am in love with being queer, with queer culture and with self-exploration and openness”

 

DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in because of attitudes towards their sexuality?
Cameron: First: I’m sorry. You are not alone. Second: this will not last. That doesn’t solve the problem, of course, but I’m asking you – as a stranger who cares – to try to outlast this moment and prepare for a better future. Finish school. Get yourself into as stable a position as you can. Seek out friends who truly know you. It can and will get better.

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Cameron: The moment I said my wedding vows. I fought hard to change hearts and minds about marriage equality and more importantly: I love my wife. She is the light of my life.

DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences in the entertainment industry?
Cameron: This is our moment. Yes, sexism is real. In my field, in almost every field. It’s a tenet of our culture. But it doesn’t have to be! You are the generation that can change it. Beyoncé. Simone Biles. Hillary Clinton. Find a woman you look up too and emulate her success.

DtL: What does the future hold for Cameron?
Cameron: A book. More tv and film work. Hopefully someday, kids.

http://cameronesposito.com/

My name is Charlie, and I’m from Sweden, one of the most tolerant and liberal countries in the world.

How lucky I am, to have been brought up in a country deemed so progressive; never have I been asked, or ordered to act in a way that is unnatural, or untrue to my authentic self. As a gay man, my closet has always been transparent; built with glass doors and walls.

When I was a spokesperson for a Pride organisation in one of Sweden’s major cities, people frequently asked me, “Do we still need Pride today?”, a question that was often followed with statements such as, “Your community has equal rights like everybody else here – you can even marry and have children.”

It came as quite a shock to me, that so much focus was put into questioning the necessity of Pride. To a point, I understand – I have had the privilege of never having to look over my shoulder before kissing my boyfriend in public – but what about transgender people? And what about queer people of colour? Disabled queers? They are just some of the many sub-groups belonging to the LGBT+ community that still face discrimination on a daily basis. So to answer, that’s why we still celebrate Pride in Sweden today.

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Events like the massacre in Pulse, Orlando, are rightfully used by everyone that supports the queer community, as examples of why Pride is still an absolute necessity. Although progression has been made, we still have a long way to go. Sadly, there are also people out there who oppose equal rights and see these tragedies as a reason to axe high profile LGBT+ events. They believe that the celebration of our identities provoke these senseless murders.

A pastor in Sweden, named Stanley Sjöberg, shared his thoughts about the attack in Orlando – he wrote: “Why can’t these people refrain from exposing themselves with their nakedness and boastfully demonstrating their lifestyles?!” Also claiming that, “If the ‘Pride culture’ continues to be provocative in this way, the event in Orlando will be repeated, in other cities and in other countries.”

Pastor Stanley tried to vindicate his statement by drawing a comparison with friends of his that are of Christian belief, and live in countries where Christianity is considered ‘deviant’ and ‘wrong’. He’s advised them to never give up their faith, but also not to be “too loud about it”. This argument, when applied to the subject of Pride, would suggest that being gay is alright – just as long as one keeps it quiet. Thankfully, most people in Sweden disagreed with him, and Pastor Stanley’s Facebook account was suspended after Facebook’s administration received numerous complaints about his discriminatory posts.

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What is concerning, and maybe, less expected, is that there are some members of the gay community that agree with Pastor Stanley’s sentiment. Internalised homophobia is prevalent on Apps like Grindr, where profiles are littered with statements such as “Can’t stand gay-acting men”, or “I’m straight-acting”, or “I don’t understand why some men act like women. If you act like a woman, maybe you should consider a sex change”.

Some will probably dismiss this as people asserting their ‘preferences’ and ‘types’ – these people are a part of the community – surely they don’t seek to hurt it?

I have heard good friends, and a handful of previous lovers say they don’t understand the need to celebrate Pride; they feel it is superficial and does not represent them. I always respond by saying, “Darling, please wake up and smell the coffee – I can assure you that nobody in the Pride parade is there to represent you, they are there to represent themselves. If you want Pride to represent you, then join them, don’t distance yourself from them!”

I appreciate Pride will always have its critics. There will always be those that question whether or not it is the most effective or, sufficient way to fight for equality. But, by denying the importance of Pride, you are essentially agreeing with Pastor Stanley – that it is ‘okay’ to be gay, as long as you don’t make a song and dance about it (literally). We need to stop commenting on how people choose to express themselves; whether you are “straight-acting” or “gay-acting” – one should not be more acceptable than the other.

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After events like the Orlando shooting, the queer community and its supporters need to unite and stand together – even closer than before! We need to do that in order to assure our safety. Of course, in times like this we are fearful, but I implore you not to be. For fear makes us think twice before we grab the hand of the one we love. It makes us look over our shoulder before we kiss. And that, my friends, should not be the case.

I’m going to march in Stockholm Pride as well as in Brighton Pride this year, adding my tone to the Rainbow, and I hope you do that too.

 

Life as a transwoman of colour can be a very challenging and solitary existence

In the patriarchal and gender-biased world we live in, it is extremely challenging for someone assigned ‘male’ at birth, to assume their femininity. Society makes it very hard, almost impossible. A transwoman’s journey to womanhood is one ridden with one challenge after another – which worsen when one is from a visible minority, and with roots in the global South.

My earliest memories are that of asking for things that I found interesting, and being told that they were for girls, and not for me. It is something I never understood, and I would on occasion cry and protest to have my way, just like any other child. My preference for things society classified as being meant for ‘girls’ soon became a problem, a reason for anger and disappointment. My parents put me in an all-boys school, which, in retrospect, turned out to be the toughest part of my life so far. All I wanted was to get away, which I did soon after high school.

Arriving in France for my higher studies, I was initially relieved to find myself at last in a place where I could be myself, without the pressure of conservative attitudes. However, I soon discovered that this was all but a mirage. I ended up in quite a conservative country, where certain privileges of open-minded attitudes were not extended to me. I was catalogued for my ethnicity and national origin – not just by cis-gender heterosexuals, but also on the so-called, ‘gay scene’. I was completely out of place. I would feel very uneasy and unwelcome in both circles, and I was left wondering what on earth was going on.

At a young age, you don’t really have answers to all the questions you are faced with. Exploring responses, finding who I was and what I liked, was a tremendous struggle that took a lot longer. It has been a long and painstaking effort to unlearn what I was told and taught, and to find my true self, the real person within that I always knew I was, but had next to no means of affirming, of being. It was a story of being forced to conform, strictly, to the dictates of a world in which the gender binary had the final say. A life beyond gender assigned at birth was clearly impossible.

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The undergraduate years spent in France often involved bouts of anxiety and plunges into depression. I quickly closed up around myself, with my voice subdued and little prospect of moving forward. What was most challenging and painful was not the discrimination, insults and micro-aggressions from cis people, but the difficulty, if not the impossibility of being part of the LGBTQI community, where being a person of colour who was questioning their gender identity happened to be far from welcome. I did what I could, to move around, to surround myself with a lot of material on gender politics, ethnic and racial studies, and activism against racially and socio-economically motivated forms of oppression of people, especially people of colour. This is what eventually made me take stock of the reality that in my struggle, I was not alone.

I subsequently ended up, in a totally unexpected way, in a place called Northern Ireland. To someone with major concerns about their gender identity, sexuality, and as a person of colour with a citizenship from the global South, it is hard to think of a more challenging place to find oneself in Western Europe. The metropolis in Northern Ireland, Belfast, has been changing dramatically since the time I first landed on these shores some ten years ago, but life as a transwoman of colour can be a very challenging and solitary existence.

One of my biggest challenges over the past few years, has been that of reconciling my gender identity with the academic and professional work I am engaged in. Working on a PhD in International Politics in a very conservative university, I found it highly challenging to assume my transwomanhood in the academic sphere. At one point, I seriously considered changing track, abandoning my PhD, and moving over to a ‘gender studies’ department in a different university. There was a time when I couldn’t help seeing things in the eyes of heteronormative society – thinking that my gender identity was going to impede my professional success. It took a great deal of time, effort and energy for me to convince myself that this was in fact not the case, being transgender does not, and should not be seen as an obstacle to career development. After taking some time to pull myself together, I began to see things in a different light. When you land in a place, out of whatever circumstances, where you do not have much space, all it means is that you have to create your own space. I chose this tiresome path of building spaces, a continuing struggle, with its own milestones, successes and indeed, many setbacks.

I generally despise the term ‘transition’, as it does not render justice to this complex process of self-affirmation that trans people undergo. It is a process of affirming, despite the dictates of a society obsessed with the gender binary, who you are. It is much more appropriate to describe it as a process of gender self-determination, which, like any struggle for self-determination, is not straightforward, and marred by one hurdle after another.

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I also despise the resolve of healthcare authorities in the United Kingdom to systematically ‘pathologize’ trans identities. It is as if being ‘trans’, or not being comfortable in the ‘cis’ identity you were assigned at birth, is a sickness, a disorder of some sort. I take issue with the way in which trans people are dealt with in the UK health system, which forces people to go through compulsory psychiatrist appointments, perpetuating the view that trans people somehow need to be ‘diagnosed’, and are ‘mentally unwell’. Some trans people, just like cis people at varying stages of life, may indeed require psychological support services, and I certainly appreciate the work done by healthcare professionals in gender identity clinics across the country. However, the system needs to begin to take stock of the fact that quite a few trans people, who have reached clear conclusions about their gender identities, should not be forced to go through the metal health red tape – a process in which trans people are brought to explain and justify their very existence.

I dare say the ailment, or mental disorder, is not in trans people but in a society that revolves around the gender binary. It is society that likes the [thoroughly false and unsustainable] ‘uniformity’ that the gender binary seeks to enforce. Biology, on the other hand, loves difference and diversity. Take any ancient culture and civilisation, and you’ll see the important presence of people of a rich array of gender identities, who upheld traditions and structures of wisdom that the gender binary could never accommodate. Trans identities are not a recent innovation. From where I stand, as someone who moved westwards from South Asia, I also reiterate that trans identities are by no means a ‘Western’ development or some form of ‘trend’.

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The former argument is common among anti-trans individuals and groups in the global South, and the latter is often voiced by anti-trans folk in the West. Both groups, in fact, are all but two sides of the same coin of hatred. In the UK, many LGBTQI support groups uphold a strategy for ‘diversity’ which includes providing occasional spaces for people of colour to express themselves. This, in my view, is somewhat inadequate, and is a form of domination in which someone in a position of power gets to determine the parameters of diversity – thereby perpetuating racial and cultural hierarchies in the LGBTQI community.

In a country with such a great deal of diversity in all its forms, it is very important to raise critical questions in LGBTQI circles on anti-oppression, multiple forms of micro-aggression, and the interplay of race, ethnicity and gender plurality. It would be beneficial to everyone to take an approach that centres around the concept of ‘queer liberation’, in which marginalised individuals and groups become the very motors of constructive change, on a platform of equality.

ChamindaDr Chaminda Weerawardhana (www.chamindaweerawardhana.com) is a Belfast-based transwoman, academic and parent, by way of Sri Lanka, France and Germany. Chaminda is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Politics at Queen’s University Belfast, and is the first transwoman to hold a research title in the university. She is a tireless advocate of gender justice, decolonising gender politics, transfeminism, and indeed, queer liberation. Chaminda blogs at www.chamidefremancourt.wordpress.com
Twitter @fremancourt.

10 things you should never say to a gay guy

1. Who is the woman/man in the relationship?

Ummm. No one? We are both men so…*feels awkward for you*

2. You’re like, my gay best friend.

I will be your best friend sure, but not your gay best friend. In fact, now you’ve said that, I don’t think we can be friends any more. #Joking #NotJoking

3. You’re just like one of the girls

I know this means I get invited to places and parties where straight men are strictly prohibited, but last time I checked, I was most definitely a man.

4. You’re such a queen.

This is only ever said to me if I am being slightly dramatic or, moody. Until someone hands me a very expensive tiara, I refuse to take on that title.

5. You’re gay, you must like musicals.

Of course I can appreciate Judy Garland’s talent, but I cannot stand musicals. And while we are at it, I can’t dance tap or sing either. Or twerk…or shimmy…actually, sometimes I find it hard to walk in a straight line.

6. But how do you know if you haven’t tried?

Well, how do you know you don’t like eating mud if you haven’t tried it? I don’t need to have been with the opposite gender to know that I am gay. You just know. Also, my sexuality is not subject to change depending on how attractive a girl might be.

7. It’s easy to tell you’re gay.

Please don’t tell me I look or sound ‘gay’. Or introduce me to someone new, as being gay. My sexuality makes up such a small percentage of who I actually am.

8. Oh , you must know *insert name of any gay man you have ever met*

Don’t assume I know your neighbour, local shop assistant or cousin twice removed just because he is gay. Also, please do not try and set me up with someone you know, just because they happen to be gay. FYI I am not attracted to every single gay (or straight) man I come into contact with. We can restrain ourselves, believe it or not.

9. Have you heard Beyonce’s new album?

Don’t make assumptions about my taste in music based on my sexuality; personally, I am not a fan of music by Beyonce, Rhianna or, Justin Bieber. *Sees people faint with shock*

10. Come shopping with me.

Not all gay men have style. Luckily, I do…

By Hugo Harris
https://hugoharris.net

‘I don’t blame the people that bullied me’: Anjana’s story

When I think back to my school days, I always try and remember the positives. Sadly, I can’t recall many.

Bullying (definition): Repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour intended to cause fear, distress, or harm to another person’s body, emotions, self-esteem or reputation.

It began in primary school. I didn’t even know there was a word for it back then. Of course, I could recognise when someone was not being very nice to me, but I didn’t really understand what ‘bullying’ was.

I was called a lot of things; fat, ugly, not a ‘real girl’. I was often referred to as a ‘he’ even though I made it very clear my chosen pronoun was ‘she’. As well as the names, some people would laugh at me and some would go a step further – I had water poured over my school work repeatedly. When I asked teachers for help, they told me to ‘stop being so sensitive and toughen up’ and my supposed ‘best friend’ told me I should try my hardest to ‘fit in’. He said the reason I attracted so much unwanted attention, was because I was ‘different’.

Different how? Well, I didn’t dress like other girls and I didn’t consider pink to be my favourite colour. At that young age, neither my best friend, the bullies or even myself had realised why they really considered me different. I wouldn’t realise until I had my first girlfriend…

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When people found out I was gay, the taunts evolved into death threats and the water that was once thrown over my school work, was replaced with nails on the seat of my school chair. It escalated so quickly and got so wildly out of control, that I didn’t know how to cope. I dreaded every school day, and would often skip class to save myself from the torment. It was an incredibly painful time. My friends felt outnumbered and scared too. They kept asking me why I made life hard for myself, and why I couldn’t just be normal and fit in like everybody else.

I felt so alone. Even though I was lucky enough to have been blessed with an incredibly supportive mother, who had always been, and would always be there for me, it took me a long time to realise there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I used to think it was my fault; I would blame myself for not ‘fitting’ the stereotype and for standing out for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. I used to wish I was invisible. Now I realise how wrong I was. I don’t blame the people that bullied me. I don’t blame them for their ignorant behaviour and homophobic views. I blame their parents for not educating them to respect others, regardless of their sexuality, race, gender or religion.

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I think everyone is beautiful just the way they are. Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are, or who you love. Don’t let people try to change you – you are who you are – embrace that. One piece of advice that I wish I could have given my younger self is this:

‘There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s a lot wrong with the world we live in.’

Don’t give up.

Anjana x

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If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, please get in touch.

Changing the world, one nail at a time

Charlie Craggs, trans-woman and activist, travels around the UK with her pop-up nail salon and invites strangers to come and get their nails done for free. Why? Well, this gives her ‘a chance to sit down with someone who might not have met a trans-person before, yet probably has a lot of misconceptions about us as a result of poor media representation, and bond with them while I paint their nails.’ Charlie talks openly with her ‘clients’ about issues surrounding trans – ‘they can ask me questions about trans stuff and I can teach them how to be an ally. But the most important part of the interaction for me, is just having a laugh and a chat because what I’m really trying to do with my campaign, is show that trans-people are just normal and actually, pretty nice people. I’m trying to change hearts and minds one nail at a time!’ 

We sat down with Charlie to find out more.

DTL: How did Nail Transphobia come about? What were the motivations for setting it up?

Charlie: I set up Nail Transphobia when I first began transitioning back in 2013. It took me a long time to accept myself as trans, but when I finally did, I realised that just because I was ready, it didn’t mean the rest of the world was. The amount of hate I began receiving, navigating the world as a trans-woman almost broke me, but back then there wasn’t the social conversation around trans issues that there is today. I was pissed off that no one was talking about the issue, so I decided to do something about it.

DTL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?

Charlie: YOU’RE TRANSGENDER!

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Photograph by Joanna Kiely

DTL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Charlie: To be honest, just leaving the house is a challenge for myself along with most other trans and non binary femmes. My life’s got a lot harder since transitioning. Everything from using public transport, to using public bathrooms, accessing healthcare and employment has become so difficult! I receive an incredible amount of hate every day, just navigating the world as a trans-woman – I think most people would crumble under the negativity. But despite all of this I’ve never been happier. For the first time in my life I’m living authentically, I’m living my truth and I’m living for me. For the first time in my life I love myself, and it doesn’t matter if the rest of the world hates you, if you love yourself that’s all that matters.

DTL: What motivates you?

Charlie: The hardship, adversity and injustice I, and all my other LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers face. I won’t stop until it ends.

DTL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.

Charlie: Yeah, I had a really horrible time at school. I faced homophobic abuse all day, every day – and I didn’t have any friends, so at lunchtime I’d leave school, and eat my packed lunch on a park bench; I was too scared to eat in the canteen because of the bullies. I had no one to hang around with in the playground, so I’d sit on that park bench by myself, every day for an hour in silence, come rain or snow. It makes me want to cry when I think about it. I wish I could tell you how I overcame it, but this isn’t a Disney film, I just endured it. Looking back, that was an achievement in itself, and probably my proudest achievement. Anyway, I’ve had my Disney happy ending now! Google me honey!

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DTL: What advice would you give to readers who may be experiencing bullying? Or feel like they don’t fit in because of attitudes towards their gender identity?

Charlie: If you can take yourself out of the situation, do, but if you can’t, just remind yourself that every day, every hour, every minute – you’re a day, hour and minute closer to leaving that place, and the people bullying you. That’s the only thing that got me through my time at school; reminding myself that with every second that passed, I was closer to leaving. Stay strong!

DTL: What has been your proudest moment so far?

Charlie: Making it onto the Independent’s Rainbow List was a very proud moment for me because the week I came out as trans, back in 2013, Paris Lees topped the list, and I remember saying to myself I’ll be on that list one day – I just didn’t think that day would come so soon! I was actually photographed with Paris at the launch party for the list, it was a surreal moment, like something from a film. I felt like J.lo in Maid In Manhattan.

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DTL: What advice would you give to people who want to work on being better allies for our LGBTQ+ friends?

Charlie: I think the best thing to do is to ask your LGBTQ+ friend personally what you can do to help them or be an ally; it’s different for everyone. You asking will mean so much to them, I promise!

DTL: What does the future hold for Charlie Craggs and Nail Transphobia?

Charlie: Though we’ve come a long way in the last couple of years with regards to trans rights, the number of trans-people (specifically trans-women of colour) being murdered every year, is increasing worldwide at an alarming rate. I was on BBC news recently, talking about the fact that transphobic hate crime is on the rise, even here in London. I’m tired of just talking about this issue, so I’ve decided to actually do something – I’m about to start running free self defence classes for trans and non binary femmes. Verbal, physical and sexual abuse is something most of us experience on a daily basis, and we all need to know how to defend ourselves; It can literally be a case of life or death. Full proceeds from the nail decals that I make and sell on my website go towards funding the classes (that’s a hint). Classes will be starting in the next month or so!

DTL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Charlie: FOLLOW ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA HUNNIES @Charlie_Craggs!!!!

What is it like to be gay in Malaysia today?

As part of our series, LGBT+ World Voices, Ditch the Label have been speaking to people in the LGBT+ community who are living, or have lived in countries with repressive legislation/strong conservative attitudes. This month sees Pride celebrations happening around the world and with this in mind, we want to give a platform and visibility to those who are still prohibited from living freely as their true selves.

We spoke to Amin, who told us what it is like to be gay in Malaysia today.

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I’ve always known I was attracted to other boys. When I was eight, I had a classmate whom I would think about constantly – I would fantasise about us holding hands or kissing.

I got teased a lot in my all-boys school – people used to call me ‘pondan’ (an often derogatory Malay word for feminine/gay man or transgender woman). Although Malaysia in the 1980s was not an impossible place to grow up gay, it was still hard work. In Malay-language sitcoms, for example, there would usually be a pondan-type character stealing the show, a bit like Julian and Sandy on BBC Radio’s Round the Horn in the 1960s.

Although Islam is Malaysia’s official religion, the population is actually very religiously diverse – it’s around 60 per cent Muslim, 20 per cent Buddhist, ten per cent Christian, six per cent Hindu and the remainder Taoist, Sikh and other traditional religions. Because of the special legal status of Islam, in Malaysian schools, it’s compulsory for Muslims to take up Islamic Studies – non-Muslims are segregated during these lessons and have to take up Moral Studies.

In my Islamic Studies classes, the dos and don’ts in Islam (as we were taught) would constantly be drummed into our heads. Homosexuality was, of course, a big don’t. I spent my secondary school life praying for Allah to make me masculine and attracted to girls. Amid all of this, I had a gay best friend in school, Badrul, who is also Muslim. Once, when our Islamic Studies teacher was telling us that homosexuality was a major sin, Badrul interrupted and asked if masturbation was a major sin as well. Our teacher replied that masturbation was a minor sin. So Badrul asked if it was a major or minor sin for two men to masturbate together. Our teacher was amused but unsettled and said it was pointless to discuss such things. The other boys howled with laughter – I kept an embarrassed silence but admired Badrul’s boldness.

“I spent my secondary school life praying for Allah to make me masculine and attracted to girls”

 

When I was in my early 20s I went overseas to university on a government scholarship. Badrul stayed back in Malaysia.
In 1998, our Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, was sacked on charges of corruption and sodomy. In Malaysia, sodomy is a crime under the secular Penal Code and also under Islamic laws – both sets of legislation were introduced by British colonial rulers. Overnight, a homophobic vigilante group emerged – PASRAH, or the People’s Voluntary Anti-Homosexual Movement. I was livid and even though I did not particularly like Anwar, I deeply opposed how he was treated. Badrul shocked me, however – he detested Anwar so much that he was happy for him to be jailed. Unlike me, Badrul simply didn’t consider the campaign against Anwar homophobic. This was not the only strange thing – for all the noise that PASRAH was making, they had to dissolve because they had such little public support.

This is the Malaysian paradox – in everyday life, Malaysians are not really that homophobic. You actually can live a very gay lifestyle especially if you’re based in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, where gay clubs and saunas abound. People generally tolerate you if you don’t explicitly demand full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people. This is the kind of life Badrul has accepted for himself, but it’s a life that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I also found it stressful trying to navigate my gay identity around the never-ending dictates of the Islamic religious police – apart from homosexuality, Muslims can get punished for drinking alcohol, not fasting in Ramadan, not going to the mosque on Fridays (for Muslim men) and so on. And even though my family know I’m gay, and accept me for who I am, they too are afraid for me. They’re always cautioning me to be careful and to not get caught by the authorities.

“Even though my family know I’m gay, and accept me for who I am, they too are afraid for me”

 

By skill or by luck, I’ve never been caught. But I feel like I can’t fully be myself in Malaysia. I have numerous Muslim friends who are exactly like me – straight and gay. We know what amazing potential we have, but we’re frustrated by the constraints that are placed around us. We’re all proud to be Muslim, too. Through online research, I’ve been exposed to lots of Islamic scholarship saying that it is actually homophobia/transphobia and not homosexuality/transgenderism that is a major sin in Islam. These interpretations of Islam are banned by the Malaysian government, however. Instead, Malaysian experiences of Islam are transforming drastically because the government is getting more repressive.

In this climate, more vulnerable than gay/bisexual men and lesbian/bisexual women are transgender men and women. Transgender women are especially prone to being violently harassed by Islamic enforcers – and this seems to be escalating the more we hear about political and economic scandals confronting the government. So from my perspective, homophobia and transphobia in Malaysia have been made much worse by politics. It’s not because of religion or Islam, as some Islamophobic people might argue in the West. There are many Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and non-religious people in Malaysia who are very supportive of LGBT rights. But they are powerless to do anything politically, because the system only rewards people who are homophobic.

For example, after the Orlando LGBT nightclub massacre, among the numerous supportive messages on Facebook from my Malaysian friends, I saw some less helpful comments along the lines of: “Well, we oppose the killing but we still think homosexuality is immoral and disgusting.” I know this attitude is not confined to Malaysians or Muslims, but the thing is that this is precisely the Malaysian government’s position, too.

To me, the bigger problem in a country like Malaysia, is a lack of democracy and respect for civil liberties. The government does not only target LGBT’s – it has also demonised Christians, Hindus, ethnic Chinese, feminist activists and Shia Muslims (because Malaysian Muslims are mostly Sunni). I don’t mind people having homophobic views or other views that I find distasteful, but I want the right to challenge or to disagree with them. If there were genuine freedoms of speech, belief and association in Malaysia, I think rational arguments would eventually win. As it stands, the Malaysian government is happy to use homophobia as a weapon to control its citizens. It is the biggest bully that is stopping the full flourishing of Malaysians – LGBT or straight.

“He said he and his boyfriend just had to be aware of when “hunting season” was for LGBT’s so they could stay low”

 

I actually love and miss Malaysia dearly, but at some point I had to clear my mind and so I came to the UK to further my studies. Then I met a wonderful English man and fell in love. I’m not saying things are perfect in Britain, but it is fantastic that we can share our love and have it protected under the law now. We give credit to the amazing LGBT activists here who’ve made it possible for us to be together like this. Ideally, I’d like to contribute to positive change in Malaysia, too, not just for LGBT’s but for human rights and democracy in general. But even my friends and family are now telling me to stay in Britain. They see that I’m in an amazing relationship and they want me to be happy.

Actually, Badrul is in a happy relationship, too. I see his posts on Facebook with his man, and their immediate families seem supportive. The last time I met him, he said he and his boyfriend just had to be aware of when “hunting season” was for LGBT’s so they could stay low. It sounded awful but he said it with a laugh.

To be LGBT in Malaysia is tough, but many people do find a way. My hope is that Malaysia becomes a true democracy one day and has a government that is not corrupt and truly upholds the human rights of LGBT’s and all other minorities.

If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, please get in touch.

Names have been changed to protect identity.

What is it Like to be Gay in Kenya Today?

Living in a progressive culture is something that a lot of people take for granted. Whilst there is still a long way to go in the fight for equality in the West, we are still much further ahead than some of our brothers and sisters worldwide. So we took to social media and gay dating apps to discover what it is like for members of the LGBT+ community living in countries with repressive legislation/strong socio-cultural conservatisms.

We were amazed by the response we got from people wanting to share their stories with us and what they had to say is a potent reminder to all that there is still so much work to be done before every human being around the world can live and love without fear of being persecuted or, prosecuted for their natural choices.

Many members of the LGBT+ community have had to make the decision to keep their sexuality hidden from those around them because ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’ could cost them their friends, family, jobs and could lead to imprisonment or even, death. Others choose to speak up and risk everything in the fight for equality.
This month sees Pride celebrations happening around the world and with this in mind, we want to give a platform to those who are still prohibited from living freely as their true selves.

Here is *Abdu’s story.

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‘My name is Abdu. I am 33 years old, born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. I am an only child. My father died at a very young age and after his death my mother remarried and moved away to live with her new husband – leaving my grandmother to raise me single-handedly.

Growing up, I lived in a nice area and attended school. I had a good relationship with my grandmother and although I had realised I was gay, I decided to keep it a secret.

All my problems started when my grandmother died in 2006. That’s when I came to know how the rest of my family really felt about me. My uncles and aunties revealed that they had always been suspicious of my sexuality since I was ‘effeminate’ and had ‘never had a girlfriend’. When I admitted the truth, they rejected me and told me I ‘didn’t belong to the family’. They kicked me out, and so with no support network I had to find a job and a cheap house on an estate to rent.

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I started adult life the hard way; alone and fearful.

It was not only my family that judged me. People I didn’t even know called me names and abused me on the street, as did my neighbours. I moved around a lot because I was so worried for my safety but ultimately, there was nothing I could do about it. I just had to live with it.

Things got worse last year. The people in the neighbourhood where I lived found out I had a boyfriend. Scared of what they might do, I decided it was time to move again, but before I had a chance to leave I was brutally attacked by a group of homophobic thugs who left me in such a bad way, I had to seek medical attention for my injuries. Although I reported the attack to the police, I received no help due to the corruption here.

 I was advised by my gay friends and different organisations to flee the area and find a safe place to stay. One of my friends working with an NGO working with transgendered people accommodated me in his home for some months. He advised me to leave Kenya and get a job outside of the country so I could start afresh. I eventually managed to find work in Qatar as a security guard – a job I could never have imagined myself doing but at least it got me out of Kenya. Little did I know, I was getting myself into hot soup! I only managed to stay there for three weeks…

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One day I was called into the office and my supervisor told me that he had been advised by my colleagues that I was displaying ‘strange behaviour’ and acting ‘like a gay man.’ He told me that I could not continue working for the company and that I would be deported. To be honest, this killed me. It was the most painful moment in my life. I just couldn’t understand what I did wrong and I had no choice but to abide and get back to Kenya.

Coming back here, my kind friend once again accommodated me. This is when I contacted an organisation helping people flee countries where they were being persecuted for their sexuality. I wanted to apply for asylum just outside of Kenya. I was in good communication with the organisation but unfortunately they could not do anything to help me.

I was using a gay online dating app when I got talking to a man called *Mark based in Germany and after telling him my story he decided to help me leave Kenya. He invited me to Germany and agreed to pay for everything. I applied and luckily I got the visa! So in December last year I travelled to Dusseldorf where he lives. While in Germany I had to try and seek asylum because I was only there with a visiting visa which expired after two months. Again, I tried contacting organisations while I was there but sadly, nobody was able to help me.

Mark and I talked about my desperate situation and we agreed that marriage might be the only solution. However, I was told by the embassy that I would need to exit the country and learn the native language before applying for a marriage visa and returning to Germany.

I came back to Nairobi and I’m still living here with my friend. I am currently studying the German language and my exams are booked for next month. I am very afraid that if I don’t pass I won’t be able to apply for a visa. Secondly, I am supposed to have a certificate of no impediment to marriage, which is not issued to gay people here wishing to marry outside of Kenya. This is required by the German Embassy here in Nairobi.

I guess all I can do is work hard and cross my fingers.

Yes, that’s my life now. I am still fighting and I hope for the best. I have gone through a lot in life but I won’t give up.  Sometimes I cry and ask ‘why me?’ but I still thank God at the end of every day.’

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*Names have been changed to protect identity

If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, please get in touch.