Any opportunity that may lead to interesting and useful things, I’m not usually one to say ‘no’. It wasn’t an easy decision to accept an MBE. Our community – and myself included – aren’t so keen on ostentatiousness and establishments and the Monarchy. But I’m in the business of improving life experiences of trans people and part of that is around raising the visibility of, not only the discrimination that we face, but also the value and contributions that trans people can and do make.
So on Thursday 26th February 2015 myself and my family arrived at Buckingham Palace to collect my MBE. Here is my blow-by-blow account.
After stressing about the Met line not working, we did finally arrive in good time. We were ushered into a holding area (a posh one though) and put our coats in the cloakroom. Catherine and my sister went to the toilet and my sister took a photo of the wooden loo. ‘It’s just like the V Festival’ she said, ‘but with Moulton Brown hand lotion’. Me and my Dad were looking at the paintings trying to spot the ones that are in the Harry Potter films. There are quite a few actually.
After that I got split from my family and put with the other recipients in another waiting area with more impressive paintings to look at. So, a room full of people who didn’t know each other. What to do but to mingle. I went to the table to pour myself a glass of water. A woman smiled at me. ‘What are you here for then?’ she asked.
‘Services to the transgender community.’ I replied. ‘How about you?’
‘Services to oral health’ she said.
This lead to a few more sentences bearing phrases such as ‘wow’, ‘how interesting’, ‘golly’ etc. But after that I got onto a bit of a roll. I was determined to tell as many people that I was here for my ‘services to the transgender community’ and that I myself was trans. This would be a good job done.
And indeed I met some lovely people. There were services to disadvantaged Romanians, services to human rights in the security industries in war zones, services to holocaust education, services to research in social sciences, services to P.E – what a bunch of the most random people! Actually the P.E guy was, like me, also from Harrow and we swapped cards with the aim to approach the Harrow Times to see if we can get a feature about the two of us.
One thing that was uniting us as a group though was that we were all panicking that we would get our simple instructions completely wrong. These were ‘move when you hear your surname, bow from the head if you’re a man, curtsey if you’re a woman, chat to Prince of Wales, shake hands, three steps back and bow/curtsy – man/woman and walk off.’ We all watched the video of the first lot that had been sent through. I was third from the end, so had a long wait.
Anyway it all went fine in the end. I saw my family in the audience smiling over at me. Just before I shook his hand, Charles had a real chuckle and my family watching me were desperate to know what I said. As soon as I was off stage the medal was whipped off me and put into a box for me to take home. After a bit more milling, we left the building (which was an actual Palace btw) and stepped into the pouring rain. We had a few photos taken with and without umbrellas and hopped back on the tube back to Harrow for a celebratory lunch. On the tube my sister said, ‘now you can tell us what you said to Prince Charles.’ I said ‘Oh yeah. Well. As I approached him a person whispered in his ear that I was here for services to the transgender community. ‘So,’ said Charles, ‘Is it a charity that you run?’ Now, whether we are a charity or community interest company wasn’t really the conversation I wanted to have. So I said ‘I work with young trans people. I myself am trans. I was assigned female at birth’.’
‘That must have been when he pulled that surprised face’ said Catherine. ‘I remember’.
‘And he said ‘Really?’ Then Paused. Then added ‘Well it’s worked then.’
‘Err… yes I said. I suppose so.’ I could sense at this point that he was going for my hand to shake. ‘The only problem I’ve got’ I added, ‘is whether to bow or curtsy.’
And that is when Prince Charles Chuckled!
And my Dad and my sister and Catherine thought this was also really funny! And we laughed and laughed. And we went off and had lashings of ginger beer and jam and things.
It was a great but slightly surreal experience.
Now then back to the job in hand – improving the lives of trans people.