On the 25th of July 2017 I was awarded an honorary doctorate for my contribution to society through my activism and work for the transgender community in the UK. I never would have believed I would be honoured in this way when I started my journey.
On the certificate for the Doctor of the Arts, it states: ‘in recognition of their major contribution to raising the profile, both nationally and internationally, of issues affecting trans people and the promotion of arts in the media.’
The past 6 years have not always been easy, but acknowledgements like this truly make it worthwhile. I am so grateful for everyone’s support and I know there is so much more work left to do.
Below you can find my speech in writing.
Fox Fisher – Honorary Doctorate Speech, 25th July 2017
Chairman, Vice-Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, and those who identify beyond the binary, thank you for this honour .
If someone had told me, even ten years ago, that I would one day be awarded a doctorate, I would have been shocked. Because 10 years ago, I had just finished my MA in Sequential Design & Illustration at Grand Parade campus and I was lost. After working at the British Consulate in America in Business Development, I returned home, for an interview and a change of direction on a creative MA. On the day I returned to the UK, I lost someone very close to me. That winter was a very dark one, where I grieved for the loss of a very close friend and in the new year, I did medical testing, in order to pay for my MA.
It was important to me to return to education, and side-step into something creative. I never thought I would be so heavily involved in film-making, but it was my short films, and not my graphics which got me a place on the course. I was usually withdrawn at school and won the art and english award every single year. Eventually I was told I needed to pick something and stick to I and I thought words were the most important form of expression, and then this drifted to graphic design, illustration, screenprinting and later on film-making.
My passion for screen-printing began at the University of Brighton, after completing my MA. I was in the midst of an abusive relationship and was at an all time low for my self esteem. I enrolled on an Adult Education course for Print-making and fell in love with the process. Jane Sampson taught me to screenprint and has been with me through thick and thin. I would like to thank Jane for her work at the University of Brighton and her studio: Ink Spot Press, where she continued to employ me and support me, during my medical transition.
A lot has happened for trans people in the past few years. For those who don’t know, I am a non binary trans person that was assigned female at birth and in 2011 I was thrust into the public light when I came out on a mainstream documentary called My Transsexual Summer. The documentary is in most ways very dated now and during the show I was told that I needed to simplify my experiences and tell everyone I was a trans man, and not non binary. I also felt that in order to get access to the health care system I needed to yet again simplify my experience. For those who don’t know what being non binary is, it means that my gender identity falls outside of the binary of being simply a man or a woman. It’s not a lack of an identity or gender, but it’s a very strong sense of self and I experience my gender in a different way. In the past few years I’ve had to constantly defend this identity and very recently I was on Good Morning Britain with my partner Owl where our identities were questioned and debated by Piers Morgan. It’s important to note, non binary people have always existed and they do so in cultures all around the world. Non binary people are even legally recognised in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Malta, India and Nepal.
While a lot has happened for trans people in the past few years, I feel as if we are still struggling with some of the same issues. Trans people’s identities aren’t respected and we constantly have to prove, explain and justify our existence. We are constantly being put down, humiliated and a lot trans people still experience a lot of stigma, discrimination and even violence. Recent reports show that 48% of trans youth have considered or attempted suicide. But a still a lot has changed since I was on My Transsexual Summer and we are often advancing and making progress. Sometimes it just feels awfully slow and the world seems very unjust at times.
I hope that in the future trans people will be respected and recognised for who they are. I hope that non binary people will receive legal and social recognition for who they are, as a part of human diversity. I want all of us to be celebrated for who we are and I want there to be a day where no one has to justify their existence nor debate it with anyone. Because our identities aren’t up for debate, nor should they ever be.
An acknowledgement of this kind helps me feel that I am on the right path and I very honoured to accept it. It speaks volumes when it comes down to trans awareness and it is wonderful to have that acknowledgement, not only for myself but for all trans people.
On another note, I meet with a very secretive trans man who is in the process of documenting his life by writing on a notebook about his experiences. It has been his therapy, bringing up a lot of painful experiences and episodes and his life. He is now 70 and in poor health. He shared with me the words he wrote about being a young teenager, aged 14 and coming out to his grandad as trans. He came out to his grandad after his mum died, saying he felt that he was in a fact a boy. His grandad did not take it well, and he was placed into a mental hospital up until his 16th birthday which is when he was finally legally allowed to check himself out. This was in the north of England in 1960’s and I will end my speech with this poem he wrote about that time in his life:
‘Walk this way.
I can only be this and I cannot be that
It’s just the way I am
I can only think thoughts that are only me
For its me and all that I am
You can lock me up, after wiring my head
And say words that I don’t understand.
Strip off my clothes but I don’t care
For I’m me and all that I am.
It’s no big deal to call me names
and drug me ‘cos you can
For I know one day I’ll leave this place, to be me and all that I am.
And when the time comes when I leave this world,
I will leave it as a man
I will close my eyes, knowing in the end
I was me and all that I am.’
Chairman, Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen and those who identify as non-binary, thank you very much again for this honour.