Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Death of Lucy Meadows

I didn't know Lucy Meadows. But like many of those of us who have been through the firewalk of facing down hate and anger and ignorance and prejudice from others in the battle to become ourselves, it almost feels like I did. I don't have to imagine the pain and soul searching that arises before one makes the final decision to go into a process of gender transition, because I have been through it. Of course, I don't know how it was for this talented teacher from Lancashire, but I have yet to meet a trans person who has faced this moment without trauma - usually severe, sometimes terminal.

But Lucy had something else to face. The increasingly monstrous, out of control, irresponsible press detected her. She arrived on their radar because she was a teacher. And her story came to light when her highly supportive Primary School informed parents of the personal journey she was making to be true to herself - in a letter at Christmas last year.

I read now that many parents supported Lucy. She was well liked and good at her job. And of course, a great example to offer a child - a person of courage, self awareness and integrity. A strong message of the value of inner honesty, of beating the odds - given to young people at an age at which they could really absorb and learn from it. Lucy seemed to have seen it this way too. In an email she sent at the time, she expressed the hope that she could "give something back" by educating others about the issue she'd had to face. "I am a teacher after all!", she said.

A parent displays the letter from Lucy's
school. Press photographers routinely
coach subjects over facial expressions
etc to support 'the story' (from The
Accrington Observer Dec 19th 2012)
Three months later she is dead.

It started with the Accrington Observer - a journalist named Stuart Pike filing an agenda laden story which claimed local animosity to Lucy's transition - an attitude that seems to have been a minority view at best, at worst practically non existent beyond a few bigoted parents who were encouraged to vent their opinions, possibly for money. And the ball rolled from there. Soon The Mail got hold of it and the story blew up with Richard Littlejohn adding his own poisonous take. Lucy was told by Littlejohn and others that she had no business teaching these children, that she should disappear. Photos were stolen, showing Lucy in her previous gender role, and one drawing done by a child at the school was acquired without permission. 'Negative' opinions were eagerly sought by journalists, whilst parents who wanted to support Lucy remained uninterviewed or unquoted. It was routine, textbook, 'monstering'.

The press arrived at Lucy's house and camped out. Despite living close to the school, she had to leave absurdly early for work, via a back door that they hadn't discovered, and wait at school until well after it had closed to avoid them. She was upset, under great pressure, and she complained to the effete and worthless Press Complaints Commission.

Finally, last week, her dead body was found, another casualty of the tabloid climate in this country that loves to hate, and to make money from it. Suicide seems likely, though we await the coroner's view - many trans people kill themselves, and many many more try to, because they simply can not bear the prejudice, the isolation, the ridicule...framed by the tabloid press with its unerring vendetta against the 'different', and a lust for the money to be made in exploiting elemental fear when it detects it. Stories involving children, like this one, are like a fruit machine of manufacturable moral panic to the gutter press. And naturally, even much of the reporting of Lucy's death was insulting, insensitive and uninformed.

And so we come to the post mortem...literally I guess for Lucy, but figuratively too...and we look around again at morality free tabloids now regathering to protect their self serving power post Leveson. Amongst those horrified by events, the cry has gone up to get Littlejohn sacked from the Mail. There is less than zero chance of that, and that petition is of course futile - but it is a symptom of the powerless anger so many feel against a group of people who seem to exist in a world oblivious to the concept of there being consequences to the words they write and that with the privilege of a platform comes responsibilities too. Responsibilities to honesty, to decency. But this is a world which is only about readership, and all else is ultimately irrelevant collateral damage. Even death.

The Mail is already defending itself by refuting any proven 'connection' between Littlejohn's piece and Lucy's death. Assuming Lucy's death was suicide, this position from the Mail - or from any of the other scum inhabiting this nest of press vipers - brings new meaning to the word 'disingenuous'. Short of discovering a note that says "Richard Littlejohn has made me kill myself", such a 'connection' will of course never be found. But if writers at the Mail, or the Accrington Observer, or The Sun, or any of the others who are part of this story sleep easy at night because they think this lets them off the hook, they are not just deluded but probably beyond hope.

They remain up to their elbows in this - because they did what they did, because they have done it before, because they did not give a damn about what could happen to innocent people, and because they would do it again - tomorrow - in a heart beat. And likely will.

I am lucky. I transitioned a few years ago. And although I went through a personal hell which lasted about three years, my luck held.  For the most part it was a private process, confined to me, my family and my friends. Ironically, much of the pain felt by me and by those I loved was clearly attributable to attitudes on display in the media every week of the year. From the vicious headlines, the smirking standfirsts, the breathless uninformed (or even lying) copy, to the vindictive comment pieces (Littlejohn's amongst them), to the parade of tv comedians who (then as now) routinely insulted trans people, I had the poison parroted at me, even insultingly replayed to me in the street by strangers.

But at least I didn't appear in the media...and I can barely imagine how that would have felt. At my very lowest points, in the early days of my transition, I felt profound loneliness. I spent months in a kind of slow motion shock as my life fell apart around me. I would lie on the floor of my kitchen and weep, sometimes for hours, as those I loved walked out of my life.

Three things kept me alive. The knowledge - somewhere, somehow - that this was something I simply had to do. That there could be no going back. Second, my love for my children, and the hope that they would return to me (despite the failure of almost all the adults in their lives to help them or to model decent, human behaviour towards me that could have helped them). And third, the love and support of a few friends, trans and not, to whom I owe everything.

But it was a close run thing. And if my life story had been all over MailOnline, forever (with my past, my history, stolen pictures of me, a vindictive commentary), if there had been reporters outside my door stalking me, with cameras every day, I might well have swallowed the bottle of Co-Proxamol that sat like an emergency exit in the bathroom cabinet.

Who knows what happened to Lucy. The Inquest will tell us a little maybe, and I have learned a little more from those who were in touch with her. But from what I know already, it seems pretty clear in one sense at least.

My luck held. My children came back. They fought past the prejudice. And the Co-Proxamol is long gone.

Lucy's luck didn't.

I was lucky enough to be doing an unimportant job, about which no-one cared much. Lucy's first piece of bad luck was that she was trying to do something that actually matters. She was trying to create a better future, teaching children, and ultimately, as she said herself, emblemising something through her own life that she hoped was valuable for children to see and from which they might learn. It was bad luck for her that she cared about these things.

And her second, even worse piece of bad luck, was that the press found her. As they will continue to find other private, entirely blameless transgender people and to destroy their lives, for no reason other than financial gain, until they are finally, properly, stopped.

Rest In Peace Lucy Meadows.

(A respectful vigil in Lucy's memory is taking place outside the Headquarters of the Daily Mail at 6.30pm on Monday March 25th. Details here )

4 comments:

  1. A brave person you are, sadly Lucy will soon be forgotten, but if more people wrote as you do and it got at there into the mass perhaps, just perhaps there would be some change ~ I can only pray that as years pass it will be easier for trans people, because one day I will be gone and my 19 year old ftm son will be left with a public force fed utter crap by the media, and have to tackle it on his own. I am so glad things turned around for you ~ but sadly there are so many more Lucy's out there.

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  2. Thank you for a good and comprehensive post about the events leading to the tragedy of Lucy.

    Wishing for you to always be "lucky"

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  3. I am still feeling this! I will be at Lucy's vigil and so will all the spirits of many more victims of prejudice, hate and murder! I did not know you Lucy but hopefully we can help you rest in peace x x x xx

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