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Apathy as a Defence Mechanism – S. Iolo

6 Jun 2022

Sam is a trans activist who works for an environmental charity delivering events and opportunities for under-represented families in Cardiff.

There are two men at war behind my eyes, and one of them is winning. I’m dancing to the clashing of Apathy’s sword against the shield of Outrage, wondering which one of these warring sides will take the reins of my attention this year.

I’m a creative, an absurdist. I romanticise simple things — the reflection of the streetlamps on roads saturated by rainwater; the lazy circular route of the bee around the lavender; the moon, stolen from the sky by a placid lake and held in the water, imprisoned — but I’m finding it difficult to fall in love with the uglier, more human parts of the world. Above all, I am an unreliable narrator.

There are a lot of things that I can say about politics. On one hand, I am a transgender man living in a country that is currently gripped by a narrative spun against people like me. This part of me doom-scrolls every time J.K Rowling trends on Twitter and weeps for my kin across rivers and oceans. This part of me is frustrated and furious, harnessing a passion unlike any other. He knows our history. Not only does he want things to change, he wants to be the reason that things change. He wants to stand in front of a rapt crowd and declare war against the foundations that failed him.

On the other, I am a sensitive young man, capable of getting too far into these things. I don’t want to think about war or discrimination or protest or inequality. This part of me wants to read books in his garden, listen to music, dance in the street with his friends. This part of me knows that my efforts are likely wasted against the great machine that vyes for my silence, and is more than happy to spend his days sitting in the sunshine, knowing that the box he ticks will make no real difference.

It’s a struggle not to feel obliged to participate in the ongoing public debates about my existence, my future. But I see the scandals roll in — too quick on the heels of one another to collect moss in their journey to my television screen — and almost find it comedic. What was once rage became cynicism, and then a sort of bitter amusement. Of course they threw a party in Downing Street while I was grieving the time I was losing with my terminally ill grandmother. Of course they drank and danced with one another while my friends and I were playing terrible party games in the box prisons of our webcams.

For weeks, the coverage on my television and social media has been about the corrupt heart of our political system. Now, I am expected to ignore all of this and cast my vote for a person who hasn’t shown any interest in me beyond my ability to put pen to paper.

This is the cynic speaking. He’s been trying to convince me to throw my phone into the lake, next to where the moon resides, and run away to somewhere where no one knows my name or my beliefs.

You see, I’m a mess of internal conflicts. I’m an independent thinker who wishes he had a faith to place his blame into. I believe that many people are good at heart, but can’t trust anyone to prove it to me. I want to contribute and make a change but I also want to lie down and stop trying to push the boulder up the hill. I am a whole host of different things, and not all of those things are admirable.

I have seen members of my community killed by the laws they’re still debating. If they’re watching from beyond that green veil, do they want me to fight for them? Is that my responsibility, as someone part of something bigger than myself? If they are watching, what are they waiting to see?

Every year on the 28th of December I think about Leelah Alcorn, a trans teenager in the States who ended her own life after being forced into conversion therapy. In her last correspondence, she said: “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day, transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.”

Leelah passed in 2014. We’re still debating whether trans people deserve to be protected from the institutions that want to erase us. I ask again, is that my responsibility? To fight against that? What does my vote do, exactly, in terms of respecting the dead?

When I was young and angry (or younger and angrier), I couldn’t fathom why my parents didn’t care about things like this. I watched my dad scream the lyrics to Going Underground by The Jam — a song of protest, of passion — and then do little else than grumble and mutter at the news. As I move forward, I understand his exhaustion. Forty years on from the release of The Eton Rifles and the Houses of Parliament are still a glorified venue for weekly private school reunions.

Now, after years of poorly-contained frustration, I am trying to live in the warm parts of the world, because the cold will kill me. If there are ghosts watching me, then i want them to see me living a joyful life. I want to embody the parts of them that were beautiful and tragically lost, not the things that put them to rest.

I will vote. I don’t have hope that this will change much. But it is not my responsibility to change things. The route to a more equal future is in arduous systemic change, but the route to a happier future is in reaching out to one another, living in the warm parts.
There are two men at war behind my eyes, but a third approaches. I’d like to think that his name is Peace.

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