What’s the Opposite of Shame?

Violet Karla O'Brien
Jul 2 · 10 min read
“Less shame?” — Homer Simpson

Two years ago, I woke up in nervous anticipation of my first ever pride. I was marching with a trans support group from my town. It’s not a group I’ve ever been closely affiliated with, but they offered me a chance to march in the parade, and that seemed important to me.

I brought two outfits that day, one for walking from my house to the train, and one for the parade. I was still a baby trans and all too concerned with what the famous Gossips of Greystones would think of me.

I arrived at a pre-parade breakfast with organised by Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), someone I barely knew asked me for a hug, I declined, he hugged me anyway. I figured that this was standard for a day of celebrations and that I was just being awkward. Looking back, I realise that in that grand scheme of things it was a just another infraction of consent, I would get to know these well as I continued my transition. However, it also marked the first time that pride began to shake off some of its shine.

The parade followed this breakfast and ended up a more pleasant experience all together. (Despite marching at the ass end of Amazon’s giant unicorn float.) I was being applauded, cheered and generally supported as we marched the route. I remember noting this as the first time since my transition that I was able to walk through Dublin with my head held high.

I genuinely enjoyed that parade, regardless of what the photographic evidence may suggest.

If I didn’t know me, I’d assume I was just really homophobic.

The parade finished in Smithfield Square that year, and once we arrived my mood plummeted. I couldn’t understand at the time but looking back I’ve gained some clarity on the situation. There had been music playing in the parade, people waving, dancing and taking photos, with all these distractions it never dawned on me that I hadn’t been talking to anyone, I had no friends around me and any support I had only lasted as long as it took for me to walk past it. Once we arrived in the vacuum that was that Smithfield after party, my lifelong sense of isolation caught up in an instant.

These of course, are not criticisms of Dublin Pride. I naively showed up expecting everything, planning nothing and naturally left somewhat disheartened. So, I left that vacuum almost immediately and headed home. On the train home I changed back into my suburbia suitable attire. The newfound confidence I had felt was gone by Greystones.

There was no real lasting impression of that day in the following months, I had gotten some nice photos to share on my social media and I had ticked the experience off my bucket list. When people would ask me about it after I would liken it to St. Patricks day in a rainbow skin. A fun day out, for those that bought into it, but in terms of meaningful substance, rather lacking. I hadn’t hated the day, but I knew it wasn’t something made for me.

When next year’s Pride rolled around, I didn’t feel like anything substantial enough had changed that would improve upon my experience at the previous year’s. I was beginning to change though, I was starting to really get out and live in the world as a trans woman, and I was starting to see what that world thought of me. (Spoilers: not much). I began to really experience the levels of transphobia in the world I’d feared before coming out. It came from outside the community mostly, attacked on public transport, kicked out of salons, but it could come from inside the community too, when cis gays would demand that I explain, why there was anything wrong with not wanting to have sex with a trans person. Which is not a conversation I am not comfortable with having, today as much as that day.

I also began to see the bigotry from corporate entities rather than Individuals. Facebook banning trans people for not using their “real names”. YouTube demonetizing videos from LGBT+ creators while allowing any amount of hateful rhetoric up until just last month.

As this year’s Pride rolled around I was more than a little bit disenchanted with the current state of what once began as a protest against police violence. The same institution now included in the parade for the first time in the form of An Garda Síochána and the PSNI. The latter felt like a particular slap as it was announced the same week that it became know that a woman in Northern Ireland would stand trial for procuring abortion pills for her 15 year-old daughter. Another gut punch for many in the community was the announcement that RTÉ would be the official media partner of Dublin Pride. The same year that RTÉ, while producing a debate on trans rights in this country, felt it appropriate to ask a notorious bigot of a comedy writer living in another country for his input.

I could of course go into detail of other, problematic and inappropriate figures RTÉ Decided to platform this year, but I’d rather not. (Unrelated Image)

“Did you hear the one about the massive hypocrite?”

It seemed the sense of disenchantment wasn’t limited to me. Very quickly a pride alternative was organised by Queer Action Ireland (QAI). In previous years they had marched in an oppositional radical block, but according to their statement, due to the inclusion of some of the groups listed above, they decided an alternative was needed. This year, I once again did not attend the Dublin Pride parade, because I agreed with the points made by QAI. I attended the alternative.

This time, I made a point to travel to Pride as authentically as possible without breaking decency laws. It felt more in spirit of the afternoon ahead of me, even if my resistance was only in the face of the face slightly older and dare I say slightly more gossipy Greystonians. I was determined that this year would be different than my last pride, it was going to mean something. Not just to me personally as the first had, but to a collection of people less privileged than I, people that needed it to mean something.

I met some dear friends this time around too, about 15 minutes before the demonstration started, we caught up on missed news, took in each-others outfits for the day, each more audacious than the last all to the backdrop of some summery tunes by all of the biggest queer artists.

It was certainly a more adventurous look this time around.

Then all at once, the music stopped, and the tone turned serious. After an introduction from QAI, early Pride activist Izzy Kamikaze reminded us all about the roots of Dublin Pride, and how this demonstration was the first step back towards those roots. The roots that got us here to begin with. The demonstration continued with most speakers representing marginalised groups. A speaker from Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland (MASI) explained instances of how the Irish police had abused their power over people of colour in this country. Another speaker from Sex Workers Alliance Ireland reminded us that the same Gardai are raiding brothels and arresting sex workers, an industry in which many Trans people find themselves in due to employment-based discrimination. While the increasing diversity in the Gardaí is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. It became very clear that the speakers here had every justification in feeling unsafe marching alongside them.

The most moving moment of the demonstration came when two friends of transgender woman Sylva Tukula, spoke about her life and legacy. This was in the wake of the reporting that Sylva was buried in secret after dying in an all-male direct provision centre. While in any context, these men’s address would have been incredibly poignant it was added to by other factors. It was delivered across one small and often malfunctioning amplifier, the crowd was listening as intently as possible and I imagine those much further from the amp than I would’ve had trouble hearing their story under the best conditions, but it became nearly impossible in the later half of it. The main Pride parade had kicked off and was passing by the demonstration. Sylva’s story was being drowned out by gay anthems blared out over the sides rainbow coloured corporate floats. Had it been in a film I might have said it was too on-the nose.

I don’t say this to vilify Dublin Pride. They couldn’t have known the circumstances of what was happening at the demonstration at that time and I felt reassured to see banners bearing Sylva’s name in the main parade.

After the demonstration, I dropped by the after party in Merrion Square to meet a friend. This was this year’s version of the party that doused my mood in Smithfield two years prior. It was a much better location, people could lie in the grass and take in the main stage in comfort. I noticed some of the points raised at the demonstration mentioned briefly on the stage while I was there. Between musical performances speakers would address the crowd with messages of the fights left to win. I have no doubt that those speakers, many of whom I respect massively, stood up there with the best of intentions. I do have my doubts about the engagement in the crowd however, people (including me) were mostly relaxing, in conversation or even out of earshot of the stage. All completely understandably too, this was after all, the after party. Optimistically, I hoped that some of the messages would make it through the much younger audience than what I’d seen at the demonstration.

At this point, it was time to recharge. I went home, power-napped, changed my clothes, made my plans for the evening and headed back for Dublin. Arriving back in the evening reminded me of the Pevensie children returning to Narnia and seeing that much more time had passed there than in their world. I had only been home for a couple of hours, but the evening city retained almost no mood of either of the prides that had come before.

My friends had been held up, so I decided to meet some friends in Pantibar on Caple Street. Just before I tried to enter, a man wearing a hat in support of Donald Trump tried to get in but was turned away by the bouncer. As he stormed away making mutterings of “PC culture” and Christianity. I tried my hand at entering but the bouncer told me they were closed. It was 10:30, I was alone, and my friends were inside. Alas, I’ve argued my way into enough clubs to know that getting in is never worth the fuss. So, I posted up outside and went to text my friends as to what had happened. By the time I had texted my friends I had been laughed at by a man passing by, (his female companion apologised on his behalf). Mistaken for a sex worker and propositioned by a man who could have been my grandfather and aggressively confronted three times by the same man, in a language I didn’t understand.

At this point I felt every kind of unsafe, so I decided to just head for the club I had planned to go to from the start, even if my friends weren’t there yet. I had a ticket and I would be safer than on the street. On my way there, I was grabbed from behind by a man who wanted to tell me how beautiful I looked. I ended up staying in that club for about 30 minutes before heading for the midnight bus home. As I boarded the bus at 11:58, a man walking by looked at me, stopped and shouted “What the fuck is that?”. These would be that last words said to me on Pride.

I’ve been out in the Dublin nightlife quite a bit for a non-passing trans woman, I know the average levels of abuse I’ll get and even what can occur on a bad night. I can quite confidently say, that in my four years of transition, that the abuse I got standing outside of a gay bar on Pride night was the worst to date. To put into context just how alarming that is for me, in the early days of my transition I would go to Copper’s in a cheap wig, no handle on make up and a beard stubble that could take your eye out. In those days, I got a decent amount of transphobic attention, people hitting on me for jokes, photos being taken without my consent. Yet it never came close to what I got last week.

In the days following, I’ve seen accounts from trans people all over social media as to the abuse they received that day in town. It has simultaneously made me feel better about what I went through, and so much worse about the state of our country and the day meant to honour this community.

Pride started 50 years ago, when trans and gay people fought for one another against the police force that had continuously harassed them. 50 years on it was heart breaking to be harassed by my fellow members of the community hours after a police force had been applauded through the streets.

My dismay didn’t last long however, because what will stick with me was the emotion that hit me on Rosie Hackett Bridge at that demonstration. At my first pride in 2017, I felt ten feet tall walking in that parade. However, within an hour I was back to feeling as small and insignificant as ever. But this year, on the bus home, after a night of the worst abuse I’ve experienced, I was uplifted by the solidarity I felt at that demonstration. Being a part of something bigger than myself and extending that solidarity to voices more marginalised than my own brought an overwhelming emotion that has stuck with me for days since. That was Pride.

Violet Karla O'Brien

Written by

Transgender writer, comedian, occasional college student. Twitter: https://twitter.com/ViologicalWoman