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Introducing Ellen DeGenerate this Trans Day of Visibility

As a magazine that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community in all of its shades, we are so excited to introduce our new guest blogger, Ellen DeGenerate here in her first article for International Trans Day of Visibility. She is a Manchester-based drag artist with a sharp wit and is one of our community’s most astute comics, get to know her here.

My name is Ellen DeGenerate. Well, it’s not, but HMRC isn’t catching me over a column in The New Feminist (no offence).

I’m a drag queen from Manchester in my mid-twenties, and a few years ago I transitioned. I started drag in my late teens / early twenties having been enthralled seeing others do drag. I lived in Sheffield at the time and the drag was very much old school Proud Mary on steroids. One of the first drag queens I fell in love with was called Fanny Burns (excuse the name, we’re all learning) – she would don a poofy ginger wig with a knee-length dress made of purple payettes that glistened while she butchered show tunes to a crowd on 10 on Sunday nights. To me, Fanny (and every other drag queen) was superhuman, untouchable. It never really crossed my mind that these crass and flamboyant creations were regular people underneath a costume until one night after a show my friend and I went to walk home and saw Fanny outside. Or did we? We walked past a bald man wearing glasses and an indiscreet coat and as we did we heard a mumble in a voice that seemed familiar. It seems obvious, especially in the age of RuPaul’s Drag Race that drag queens are real regular people, but it wasn’t until that night that I joined those dots myself. If Fanny could be the life of the party and then 10 minutes later be a bloke on the street – can we all escape who we are to create something more magical?

I became more enthralled with drag at this point and even years later there is a novelty when I have an interaction with a drag queen I admire like Shania Pain or Danny Beard and I realise that these works of art I look up to, are human just like me. Soon I was putting my best efforts into doing drag and learning more about drag across the world. I learnt of the transexual showgirls of yesteryear like Coccinelle, Bambi, and April Ashley. I learnt of the thriving alternative scene in Manchester with characters like Anna Phylactic, Violet Blonde, and Monopoly Phonic. Not long after beginning drag, I found myself doing stand up and when I popped on a wig, I was able to hold a room in my hands and tell stories that I don’t think I would have felt able to tell if my exterior had matched the reality of who I was as flailing trans kid. There was a solace for me in the anonymity; knowing that even if I were to bomb and be the lowlight of everyone’s night, if they walked past me in the Tesco veg aisle the next day that similar to Fanny, I’d be unnoticeable and free of consequence.

Day to day I enjoy living an uncontroversial life; though I consider myself a feminist and have plenty of unnecessary opinions forming at any given moment. I largely keep these confined to my diary (or as we call it in 2022, my Close Friends Instagram story) because if the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that trans women who come forward with their thoughts and worldviews online always end up receiving flack.

One piece of wisdom that has always stuck with me was when I was very early in transition and an older trans woman joked that there should be a rule prohibiting trans women from being in the public eye for the first few years of their transition. Albeit a joke, I think she was onto something. While there’s much more to life, transition is a tornado for the first few years and tears up anything and everything you once thought was rooted. We prepare people starting their transition to know that matters of employment and family might be more uncertain than they’ve previously thought. We do a great job of warning trans people that everything around them might change (perhaps too much so, but that’s a story for another day). However, while we do so much to brace them for changes in external circumstances, we seldom remember to prepare them for the inner change and conflict that they will have to work through.

When experiencing a tornado, the first advice is always to run inside and find a basement or hide underneath something sturdy like a bed, a desk and so on. Transition shares a parallel with this; there’s a feeling in transition that everything is unearthing, and that you have no control of everything that happens around you. In many cases, there’s a clear trail of destruction (be it relationships, financial security, physical health) and the instinctive response is to settle still, buried away and refuse to budge. For myself and many friends, this manifested especially in our worldviews. We become so focused on survival that we forget there is a world outside of that basement and the tornado we are hiding from; so we delve further into our views (especially our feminism). We begin to self-centre as a means to survival; forgetting there are issues in the world outside of the small community of online transphobia that we fixate upon. When we have such little control over what is happening to us, we use an arena like feminism or social justice to exert all of our frustration – often in a way that lacks compassion or kindness.

The reality is that transition isn’t the sort of tornado that you can wait out underneath your bed; sooner or later you must accept that you’ll be swept up. The real question isn’t whether you’ll be impacted by this storm of change, but how you’ll handle yourself when you find yourself in its centre. Stories suggest that when people are swept up into the eye of a tornado, they often tense up in the hope of forming some sort of resistance to the chaos. Unfortunately babe, they die. We’re now led to believe that the best chance you have of survival when you are in the eye of a storm is to completely let go and relax your body, that your best chance of surviving the chaos is simply to give it permission to batter you around and throw you wherever you may land.

My past couple of years have been letting go in the tornado, accepting what I can’t control and taking on the lessons of whichever direction I’ve been thrown in. My worldview and my feminism have changed a lot. I have beliefs and principles now that my 19 year old self would have been appalled by – but I believe that is the only way any of us can truly consider ourselves part of any social movement. The ability to look outside of ourselves is fundamental, however difficult it may be for someone early in transition. The decision to wake up each morning and choose compassion is what changes the world. I don’t doubt that in one of these columns I’ll write about learning to love people deemed as ‘transphobic’ – to me the ability to make people feel seen and heard (regardless of how their opinions make you feel) is the most healthy and productive thing any of us can do.

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