Dr Samuel Hall on why 2016 wasn’t all bad and where we need to be if we want to change the world.
It seems to me that ‘time’ passes more and more quickly. I’m sure this year only just began. Of course time is relative, the older you get, the quicker it goes. A year is almost one fiftieth of my life, but only one tenth of my youngest son’s, so no wonder this year has gone quickly for me. Depressing but true. Perhaps it’s time to stop counting time and just enjoy the passing of it, and more importantly, make sure that what I do in the time I have left really means something.
In any case, I sincerely hope that 2017 is a better year for the planet. It strikes me that many of us will be glad to have seen the back of 2016, with its seismic political shifts, the rise of the ugly twin towers of nationalism and uber-capitalism, miserable human rights records in the Middle East and beyond, as well as its more than fair share of creative human loss; David Bowie, George Michael, Caroline Aherne, Alan Rickman, Natalie Cole, Leonard Cohen, Pete Burns, Alexis Arquette, Gene Wilder, Prince, Victoria Wood, David Guest, Ronnie Corbett and Terry Wogan to name a few.
Oddly, it’s been a pretty momentous year for me personally, in a very positive way. 2016 is a year that I will not forget, for all the reasons listed above and more, but most of all because this was the year I married the love of my life. I’m truly blessed to have the commitment and love of a woman who has changed my outlook on life completely, as well as restoring my faith in humanity by loving me unconditionally despite, in spite, or perhaps even because of, my transness.
The events of the year just ended have forced me to reflect more deeply than I’ve ever done before about the human race and our part in the ever evolving story of humanity. I’ve been trawling the news in a desperate attempt to get to the bottom of so many questions. Why? Why did the US put a cut-throat businessman in the White House? Why did half of the UK want to separate themselves from the EU? What is the UN for if we cannot protect innocent lives during a divisive and deeply destructive civil war in Syria?
At some point I turned the corner from looking for answers to accepting things as they are, a revealing of the many faces of humanity, both beautiful and ugly, hopeful and desperate, love and its diametric opposite, which is fear. Fear, not hate, is the opposite of love. People do and say nasty things because they’re afraid. Afraid of losing their livelihoods; afraid of not being able to feed themselves or their families; afraid of ill-health; old age; incapacitation; afraid that their lives might have to change; afraid of realising that we are all worthy of dignity and respect.
Once you arrive at the conclusion that we’re all equal, and that any privilege we have is pure chance not merit, it’s hard not to weep over the state of the planet. We’re a generation of post-war babies who remember the past through our parents and grew up with a ‘never again’ mentality, honed in the decades following WWII. But guess what? We forgot to teach our kids. The growth of capitalism has rendered us all so small-minded, needing to protect ourselves and our material belongings at the expense of others. The so-called ‘Millennials’ are furiously scrabbling around in the history books to work out why the hell people are so selfish.
And yet there is hope. I see it in my children most of all. Bright young things, advantaged, healthy, educated and determined. Hell-bent on studying politics and sociology, inquisitive minds sure that they can do a better job than the generation they’re poised to succeed. And I sincerely hope that they do.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants, so that anything good that flowers in our lives must have grown from a seed planted by someone who went before us. I look to those who trod my path in some way for inspiration. In the past I’ve written about Michael Dillon, a physician and the first transman to undergo phalloplasty. He died at 47 (my age now) in 1962, having led a trailblazing life which ended in the peace of a Buddhist monastery.
I’ve also recently stumbled across another transgender man who worked as a doctor around the same time. Born in 1912, Sir Ewan Forbes forged his way living as a man in a time when being openly transgender was not an option. He struggled with being raised as a girl in aristocratic circles and eventually managed, like Michael Dillon, to get his birth certificate changed, claiming that his registration as female had been a ‘ghastly mistake’, and going on to marry his wife in the Scottish Kirk (church). This allowed him to inherit his father’s baronetcy, restricted to male heirs, in spite of his cousin disputing his claim to the family title and chattels. The case went all the way through the courts to the Home Secretary before finally being settled in his favour in 1968.
These men sowed the seeds that I, and many like me, are reaping in our lives today. Although the necessary secrecy surrounding their lives and transitions meant that their cases were not used as precedents in later judgments on the legal recognition of gender variance, surely these men forged a path that had not previously existed – a path that I now walk, alongside others, which is rough-hewn, full of pot-holes, twists and turns, but a path none-the-less. It’s a path that I hope my treading will smooth out and straighten up even further.
I don’t know what events in my life could possibly be as monumental as those in the histories of these two men, but I do know that there are still very few of us in the public eye, and that is where we need to be if we really want to change the world.