Public transport and gender expression

On Saturday, London celebrated Pride in London. The sun shone on the parade which was formed of grassroot LGBTQ charities and organisations, emergency services, public servants and numerous other organisations who are happy to attach a rainbow to their logo for at least one day. I was very happy to be able to march in the parade with the awesome Gendered Intelligence who had very kindly been placed at the front of the first section of the parade just behind the very long rainbow flag.

Whilst out and about I received a message in one of my friends WhatsApp groups saying about how it was great Uber were using a rainbow coloured line to indicate how far away their car is. This isn’t the first time Uber have updated their app during Pride season and I’m sure it won’t be the last. However, this message was actually quite triggering and I quickly replied that I would rather see them do something that actually supports the community they are supposedly tying their affections to by offering gender non-conforming people free lifts home after dark.


I don’t know the ins and outs of Uber or any other big corporations that have found the rainbow hue and wouldn’t want to start to judge if they are genuine or not in their feelings towards the LGBTQ community. Each year more and more companies show their support and it is a good thing but please first take a look at the actions of your company. If you are doing anything that directly or indirectly negatively effects any LGBTQ person please invest money in to how you can change your ways of working for the better before you invest in some bunting and a float at Pride. If the lives of any members of our community are negatively effected by your organisation those people will not want to see you in the parade and it could make them no longer feel safe in what should be one of their greatest safe spaces in the year. Sometimes we will also fight back. Look at the No Justice No Pride movement against the involvement of Police in Pride parades.


Transport for London added the rainbow colours to a lot of station signs and carried Pride in London posters and adverts at what felt like all of their stations. Such public support on a system used by the majority of people living in or visiting London is fantastic and helps to get the message across that LGBTQ people are here, we’re not going anywhere and we are to be celebrated. However, using public transport can be a very difficult experience for gender non-conforming people. On Monday evening I used public transport across London for my return journey to talk at an event that was celebrating Pride. Naturally, I was looking fabulous. As usual, the journey consisted of many stares. People looking me up and down, people rolling their eyes at me, mutters of disgust to partners and people who get their phones out and pretend their hardest that they are not taking a photo of you. On my return journey this was repeated but one of the lines I was due to use was suspended so this involved additional time waiting for trains that would not appear and changing at a station that I’m not overly confident presenting as femme at yet. So the stares, nudges etc continued. It makes me wander what is the physical and mental expense of having this happen to you day after day?


Sadly, I don’t feel that there is going to be a day in the near future where travelling alone on public transport is going to be safe for gender non conforming people. I hope that you already ask female friends travelling alone how they are going to get home, do they need someone to travel with them, do they need a couple of quid to pay for a taxi? I implore that you also start to think the same of your gender non conforming friends. They have a right to not face trans phobia and the fear of trans violence on every occasion they leave the house. Will you pay for their next taxi home after dark?

Why I will never be “serving fish”

Within the trans community there is a lot of importance placed on the ability to ‘pass’ (meaning you can walk down the street and be regarded by others as your actual gender). The wonderful Juno Roche has already eloquently written about the trouble with ‘passing’ and how it is a misogynistic and sexist concept (‘What passing in the transgender community really means’). Sometimes within the trans community and definitely within the drag community the term ‘serving fish’ is commonly used to convey a similar idea. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race may also recognise the phrase. (Of course we already know that we don’t always want to repeat everything said on Drag Race.)  Quite often the most female looking participant will be referred to as ‘fish’ or ‘serving fish’. On the show it simply relates to the idea of being the most female looking but the idea that ‘woman = fish’ should probably start to raise some concerns…?
UK promoters Klub Kids UK regularly host drag queens from RuPaul’s show across the UK. Their recent tour was called ‘Fishy Queens’. Some people naturally took objection to that name. The club owner took to his Facebook to show his upset saying:

 

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“So the KLUB KIDS UK FISHY QUEEN tour has started some stir between some London queens saying the term Fishy Queen is bad and degrading to Drag queens. Thinking we are speaking about a female vagina. (i know WTF)
“Well thats not what the term means (google it or just watch RPDR) it means how a drag queen is very feminine and fierce.”

 

For someone who says to just “google it” he personally hasn’t taken any time to do the same before investing money in a country wide tour with such a name. The RuPaul’s Drag Race Wiki pages dictionary gives the full meaning of fishy as:

 

“adj. A term used to describe a drag queen who looks extremely feminine, or one who convincingly resembles a biological woman. The term is a reference to the scent of a woman’s vagina, which is colloquially likened to the smell of fish. Although the term is considered to be a compliment among Drag Queens, it is often considered to be an insult among biological women”

 

“It is often considered to be an insult among biological women”. I’ve already seen the “not all women” brigade online supporting the use of fishy but I’ve also seen more women (including friends) who are offended by its use and its meaning. (But maybe as the owner notes this is a London snowflake thing…). His post sadly only mentions drag queens and all women (in their many wonderful forms) are ignored. Sadly there is a genuine feeling among the gay male community that women do simply equal vagina (eurgh!) and that vaginas are as smelly as fish. We’ve still got a long way to go…

 

The club owner stuck to his guns insisting in the comments that:

 

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“The tour name is based on the Rupaul version of term which is obvious due to the casting. So this clearly shows we are not trying to be offensive, we have no knowledge of the old meaning of the word. But why would we, we are basing it on the meaning from drag race.”

 

“We have no knowledge of the old meaning of the word. But why would we” (!!! *palm to forehead*)

 

Thankfully a short 20 minutes (and many negative (and supportive) comments) later he positively updated:

 

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“You learn something new everyday. I personally don’t like the thought that my event plans and choices may offend people. The name of our tour isn’t important. I will look into this and how we can make changes to the name.”

 

Listening to all of your community (or more simply society) is important. Why would we want to genuinely upset someone?

 

As a gender non conforming / non binary / trans feminine person I will never ‘pass’ or be ‘serving fish’. Despite how I choose to dress or make up my face my bald head (thanks genetics!) and beard will never allow me to be read as femme by most people (more on that in a new blog very soon). I often get told by cis and trans women how I can look more female (“obviously the beard needs to go”, “can’t you just shave your legs?!”, “shaping your eyebrows will definitely help”). Although the majority of time I may wear clothes/shoes seen by others as female it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to be female. Rather I enjoy celebrating the female, the male and the sometime I just don’t want to be either feelings deep within me. All the time that importance rests on women (including trans women) and drag queens to ‘pass’ or be ‘fish’ in the eyes of the male standard of beauty there will be no accepted place for gender non conforming people to just be themselves. If the next time you see me on the street (or someone like me) and I’m rocking a dress and a beard just let me be. Don’t tell me my masculinity is failing, beat me up, spit at me or tell me how to be a “real woman”. A positive word will of course always be welcome.