Award-winning playwright, filmmaker and published author Alec Butler was born intersex and now identifies as trans. Here they blog about their experiences.
*Note to Reader: Alec uses pronouns I/we throughout the article
This moment right now is our proudest moment, to be an award winning playwright and filmmaker, a published author, a budding scholar at one of the most prestigious research universities in the world, is a dream I dreamed for myself for years.
We were born with an intersex condition over fifty years ago; there was no closet for someone like us growing up. We were both teased and threatened about whether we were a boy or a girl every day at school; bullied on a regular basis in the locker-lined hallways. The teachers did nothing; my parents worried about whether I would end up dead. Instead of dwelling on a reality where we were not wanted, we found solace in writing and making art, reading stacks of books at the local library, biding our time until we were in a position to leave a community where we were not wanted.
I left home on a quest to find other people like us, aware that there were gods/goddesses like me in myths only according to what we were reading in the encyclopedias at the library. In the Greek myths, Teresias, the doubled sexed seer caught my imagination.
“The teachers did nothing; my parents worried about whether I would end up dead.”
In the mid 1980’s I moved to Toronto, Canada where I lived as a butch lesbian for decades, making a name for myself as a playwright in the queer Canadian theatre scene, writing, producing and directing plays about lesbian life in the big city. Getting nominated for a national drama award while at the same time couch surfing with friends because we were homeless. Such is the precarious life of marginalised artists in this society.
In the late 1990’s while performing a monologue by Pussy Boy, a film character I was developing at the “Counting Past Two Festival”, the first literary and film festival featuring the work of trans people in Canada is where I heard the word “intersex” for the first time, struck a deep chord in the core of our being.
I researched the many intersex conditions that exist on the worldwide web.
A memory of my mother telling me about a drug her doctor made her take while she was pregnant with us bubbled to the surface. I realised we were born with the one intersex condition caused by medical intervention in utero, lucky us. I often wondered if we were the result of a medical experiment when I was a kid. Thoughts that inspired many sci-fi short stories in my mind, turns out we were not too far off the mark. Since those young fantasies of being special, or an alien from another planet, I discovered that people like us, people who identify with both genders, or none, have existed since human beings have existed, that we were worshipped as deities, that masses of people performed special rituals in our honour, we had sacred and practical roles in the community, we were wanted and desired.
“I realised we were born with the one intersex condition caused by medical intervention”
In North America before colonisation, First Nations recognised people like us as healers and teachers called Two-Spirits. Our mixed race family background is a result of colonisation of Canada; our ancestors are First Nations, French, Irish, as well as African on my mother’s side, my grandmother Nanny, was a descendent of the first 250 slaves brought to Cape Breton, a small island on the east coast of Canada. It was on this island in New France where the first point of contact between European and Indigenous people was established, the island where Fortress Louisburg was built 400 years ago, a huge military complex that controlled the trade routes of the New World. In was from our favourite beach at Kennington Cove that Captain Cook launched his curriculum trip around the globe in the 18th Century.
In the 1960’s a section of Fortress Louisburg was rebuilt as a tourist attraction, my father worked there as a carpenter. We lived a twenty-minute car ride down the road from what was once the epicentre of the colonisation, the main port of resource extraction from North America on behalf of the King of France. Today the colonisation continues unabated, it is still in progress. The colonised mind is the root of the mentality of people that bully; colonisation is the birthplace of feeling entitled to take what does not belong to you without asking.
Over the years, since coming out as trans we have made it our mission to decolonize our mind and our community, but the forces of colonisation have been at this for hundreds of years, destroying not only the land, cultures, food and living resources, the very spirits of the indigenous people they encountered and in the process almost wiped out the many beautiful gender expressions that have existed since the dawn of humanity.
We need to remember as Two-Spirit, gender queer, non-binary people that we are the descendants of these LGBTQI2S ancestors who were almost exterminated but they did not succeed because we are still here, that we exist as flesh, blood, guts and bones, mind and spirit, living lives of purpose and pride, we are not just myths in stories from the past.
If I had a message to give to my past self from what I know now it would be to love myself more, by using my voice more not just bury myself in books, thoughts and dreams about how it could be different, although dreaming is an important stage in decolonizing the mind, it is equally important to speak up and act. It’s now the 21st century, trans people have made unprecedented gains in getting their humans rights recognised but a vicious backlash has ensued in response, black trans woman bare the brunt of the backlash, Trans Day of Remembrance is a mass communal memorial to the hundreds we lose to violence every year. So speaking up, not being a bystander when witnessing abuse is more crucial than ever, not just for trans people but for all people who are bullied.