I was standing in the airport security queue at Heathrow Airport when a group of middle-aged women started laughing, indiscreetly, at a trans woman just in front of me in the queue; and I wanted to say something, yet I didn’t want to cause a scene, didn’t want to make the experience any worse for the woman in front of me than it already was. Then we approached the security belt and staff started laughing and pointing, even less discreetly than the women had done, and I couldn’t contain the rage. I ended up telling them off; I ended up in tears, shaking. The woman informed me that she was fine – this was her everyday life, after all. She was used to it.
With hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t the security staff that broke me. With hindsight, I was definitely already sad, probably already broken. What broke me was the story of the woman who killed herself, the activist whose mental illness episode ended in police arrest as she wandered the streets of Dublin naked – an arrest that was videoed, shared, watched on Facebook by 130,000 people before, just a few days later, she took her own life.
More than upsetting, frightening and enraging, the behaviour of the gardaí proved a point, proved that she’d never been a real, valued person in their eyes, having grown up in an estate they didn’t touch but sneered at, a world they didn’t care for – one they protected the privileged classes from, despite exclusion being the heart of the problem in the first place. From being ignored to being abused, she was worthless to them. And people are offended when they hear people say that all cops are bastards. That’s what broke me.
All cops aren’t bastards, yet everything they touch turns to muck. Records of millions of imaginary breath tests; false allegations of sexual abuse, leaked personal information, lives ruined. Once entangled in a system of corrupt power relationships, even the most well-intended citizen will struggle to tell right from wrong. But what breaks me is that those who know that indeed all cops aren’t bad are so busy defending them that they refuse to see the abuse by those who are, refuse to see how one thing leads to another, how police brutality is killing working class people, literally.
All cops aren’t bastards – just like #notallmen, indeed #notallmedia. But try to tell the same people that not all travellers trash hotels, that not all muslims are terrorists, and they’ll insist that it’s hard to see the wood for the trees, that when you see it happening more than once it’s hard not to come to expect it. The good and righteous should take responsibility for their tribe, they say. But who takes responsibility for the gardaí when they share footage of a distressed woman at her most vulnerable?
‘I don’t get it,’ some say about transsexuality, as if their ability to empathise and identify with others writes the rules, as if ‘not getting it’ equals forgetting everything they’ve ever known about human decency and thinking it’s OK to point and laugh at a person who is never allowed to feel normal. There are a lot of things to feel sad about in the world right now, but perhaps that’s what’s worst of all: the fact that so many so often will fail to stand up for other people who don’t already have the upper hand, fail to empathise with anyone but those already in power. That so often, people are willing to tar everyone with the same brush as long as they’re already oppressed and powerless, to play along with Varadkar’s game of ratting on those most desperate in society, those already left out. That #notallanything only ever punches down, never up; that it only ever serves to silence.
And that’s what breaks me – that I’m only really feeling this now, protected my entire life by the privilege of boredom. That I’m crying in an airport while the security staff roll their eyes at me and keep on laughing, and the trans woman soldiers on – because this is the world she’s used to.