Kathy CatonBy Sarah Hutchings
QueenSpark's Creative and Marketing Manager Sarah Hutchings talks to Kathy Caton: inspirational Project Manager of Brighton Trans*formed (a Queenspark Project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund).
'From young to old, many people question their gender identity, but often have no role models to turn to, heroes from history to admire.’ Rory Smith of FTM Brighton at the launch of Brighton Trans*formed.
SH: Which historical trans* people do you admire? And can you tell us a bit more about one or two of them?
KC: Rory makes a very good point – and often trans* lives and histories have been erased, rewritten or just not recorded. But there are two historical figures who really stand out for me, not least because their trans* identities are simply one aspect of lives that would be fascinating by any standard.
Born around the turn of the 18th Century, Dr James Barry was a pioneering British Army surgeon. Barry served at Waterloo and was then posted to South Africa, where he fearlessly championed the marginalized. He reformed hospitals, leper colonies, mental asylums and prisons, and challenging corruption, racism and poor hygiene. In 1826 Barry performed the first successful Caesarean Section in British medicine, and only the second in the world. He just seems a fearless character – he fought several duels when insulted about his voice and diminutive appearance, and also managed to upset Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War who described him as, “the most hardened creature I have ever met”. Throughout his career Dr James Barry fought tirelessly to alleviate unnecessary suffering and to treat those on the margins of society with respect and care. A pioneer.
I’ve recently learnt about Chevalier D’Eon de Beaumont, who very publicly transitioned in mid-life in the late 1700s. While living as a man, d’Eon was posted to London as diplomat negotiating peace between Britain and France, while simultaneously working as a spy for Louis 15th preparing for a French invasion. D’Eon transitioned in her mid-40s, while still very much a public figure. To supplement her income later in life she pulled crowds as a sword-fighter, which brought her to Brighton in 1793, aged 65, giving fencing displays at the Duke Street Theatre (now Havana restaurant). Her name lives on in The Beaumont Society, and as a popular Japanese Manga and Anime character.
SH: We know that a rich variety of trans* lives are lived in Brighton today, do you think it is possible to have a ‘trans* community’ (i.e. trans* people coming together to celebrate their lives and experiences) or is that just wishful thinking?
KC: Personally, I think that Brighton’s trans* community is connecting and organising in a more powerful way than ever – 2013’s Trans Pride Brighton was a case in point, an incredibly positive community event that was genuinely inclusive, open and friendly, really powerful. There are of course those who, for a variety of reasons, don’t feel connected with the increasingly visible and vocal trans* community, but in the main I feel this is a really exciting time for the trans* community, there are some incredibly committed community leaders and the support and social groups are going from strength to strength. And for anyone who says there’s no such thing as the trans* community, they need to have their eyes open over the weekend of Trans Pride Brighton 2014, and see that the absolute opposite is true!
SH: Have you had many trans* people come forward to be interviewed for Brighton Trans*formed? What has the response been like?
KC: The response to the project, both with interviewees and trainee interviewers has been absolutely fantastic. One of the great things about Brighton Trans*formed is that a significant number of our interviewees have also been trained as oral history interviewers - I think the experience of having been interviewed has led to people going on to conduct great interviews themselves.
SH: When will the book be available and is there going to be a public exhibition and/or any other activities?
KC: We’ll be finishing the last few interviews over the coming weeks and then the Book Editors, in partnership with a team of volunteers, will be getting stuck in to editing the book, with a view to publishing towards the end of summer. We’re just recruiting our Exhibition Coordinator at the moment, once they’re in post they’ll be working towards staging an exhibition over the weekend of Trans Pride Brighton (25th-27th July). We’ve also appointed a Website designer who will be building the Brighton Trans*formed website so people’s stories can be accessed from anywhere. I’m excited too about helping train some of our volunteers in radio production so they can produce a radio programme based on the interviews and the project for RadioReverb 97.2fm. It’s going to be a busy but exciting next six months...
SH: What has surprised you about working on this project?
KC: It’s not so much a surprise, but one of the things we’ve really had confirmed as we go along is the timeliness of this project. It coincided with the UK’s first ever Trans Pride (in Brighton 2013) and I’m really glad that we've been able to record the testimonies of those involved in organising that event.
SH: If you could include any living trans* person’s story in this project, someone who you feel is an important figure in the history of trans* people, who would it be?
KC: April Ashley MBE is an absolutely inspiring figure, I’m delighted that Heritage Lottery funded an exhibition based on her life at the Museum of Liverpool. I’ve also worked with Paris Lees on another project that I’m involved in, and she is absolutely unstoppable. In the ascendant at the moment – starting META magazine, appearing on Question Time, presenting documentaries for the BBC, prolific in her writing and using Twitter to galvanise, connect and challenge. She’s a force of nature!
This page was amended on 13/05/2015