"I wasn’t the only victim of your verbal and physical violence." Paris Lees. Photograph: Ryan Harding Photography.
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Paris Lees: Why I won't be sending you a father's day card

When I tell people I no longer speak to you, they assume it’s because of my difficult and lengthy transition from male to female. That frames me as the problem. I don’t speak to you because I don’t share your values and I don’t like the way you treat people.

Oh Father.

Every dad, whether he admits it or not, looks for recognition on Father’s Day, but there will be no card or packaged gift from me to you this morning. Today I get to insult you simply by doing nothing. Petty, perhaps, but the only protest I can make against your impact on my life. This snub, of course, arises from social expectation – the sort you tried to force on me as a child, though I suspect the irony is lost on you. I know it’s self-defeating to carry ill feelings. I know hate hurts the person feeling it just as much, if not more, than those it is directed towards. I believe in forgiveness, too, when people seek it. So yes, I like to think I have a big heart these days but I do still allow myself this one slight glimmer of spite.

I was bullied as a child, violently, mercilessly, and constantly. I’m a woman today but back then I was seen as a sissy boy – a fact knocked, kicked and thumped into me at every opportunity when I was too weak to fight back. “You’re gay”, the kids at school would shout, the very worst of insults back then. When shouting wasn’t an option they’d write cruel things about me on bits of paper and pass them around the classroom. And when I got home I could expect a clip ’round the earhole for “talking like a poof”. I wasn’t the only victim of your verbal and physical violence.

Sometimes when I tell people I no longer speak to you they assume it’s because of my difficult and lengthy transition from male to female. That frames me as the problem. I don’t speak to you because I don’t share your values and I don’t like the way you treat people. I needed you to love me as a child. People assume you don’t accept me but the truth is I don’t accept you. I didn’t write this letter to hurt you though. I didn’t write this letter for you at all, actually, and I have no idea how you will feel about it or even if you will see it. The damage children suffer can be so toxic to their adult lives. This letter is for anyone whose father wasn’t some romantic stereotype who pottered around the garden while mother prepared Sunday lunch.

I daresay, like my mum, you’d have adjusted to my new identity given time. She wasn’t there for me, either, when I first transitioned. I know what it’s like to spend Christmas alone because my family found my presence more awkward than rejecting me. I also know what it’s like to feel bullied, again, as an adult, in the streets, for daring to walk down them. The taunts became 'fucking tranny', for a while, and cruel jokes about people like me are now written in newspapers, and circulated nationally. Thankfully I reached some kind of normality. Perhaps you were right about normality, perhaps it is the most important thing.

I don’t know what I would do without my mum these days and the rest of my family. They got on board. If they hadn’t I suspect I would still be trapped inside the house popping antidepressants and waiting for people who are not you to bring me food. Or worse. I read a study recently. It compared transgender people who have family support with those who do not. Guess what? Of those who were supported, none faced housing problems, 72 per cent reported life satisfaction and 4 per cent had attempted suicide. Those who weren’t supported gave rather different feedback. Over half faced housing problems and just 33 per cent reported life satisfaction. Saddest of all, 57 per cent had attempted suicide. They don’t print stuff like this in Father’s Day cards.

I’d like to tell you about my friend Fox. He was born female. This is what happened when he told his father he wanted to transition: “Dad stood up and cut off my sentence, saying ‘I think I know what you’re going to say, and I want you to know I support you 100 per cent’. It was exactly what I needed to hear and it brought us much closer together”. Fox’s dad Bryan still gets cards on Father’s Day and the only thing that has changed is the gender of one of the senders: “I had two daughters, but I now have a daughter and a son. My wife and I are both proud of his achievements and willingness to promote transgender issues.” He told me he’s pleased Fox opened up to him because he cares for his son and “each day of living a lie is a day unfulfilled.”

I’m telling you this because I want you to know, Father, that it is possible to love your child even though they are different.

I know it can be hard for parents. I know you probably didn’t know any better. The lack of information about people like me in the media and the way we are demonized by the tabloids doesn’t help. I’m trying to change that now, Father, through dialogue, empathy and compassion. Check out the work I’m doing with All About Trans raising awareness among media professionals. There’s a great deal of progress to be made. Many trans people are still rejected by their families when they transition and fear of this often keeps them from transitioning at all. They miss out on the fulfilling lives that I, and many like me, have been lucky enough to secure.

So that’s why today, Father, honestly, if I were to send a card, it would be addressed to me.

Paris.

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What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era