Writer Mick Clocherty speaks to transgender woman Adrianne Elson, a former member of the Orange Order who'd like to rejoin the women's lodge, and says there's a lesson of equality in it for all
THERE'S a mythical beast that can be found roaming the West of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it has been sighted all over the world.
The beast has hundreds of arms and legs, emits a thunderous roar of drums and flutes, and holds reactionary Christian views. The beast can smell when you're hungover on a Sunday morning, and relishes strutting down your street to wake you up.
To become a part of this monster, all you have to do is hold the same views as it and it will assimilate any willing participants. Or so we thought…
Adrianne Elson is a transwoman living in Belfast who wants to join the Orange Order. Predictably, a protestant fraternal organisation dedicated to a 326-year-old political vision might not be all that willing to accept a transwoman and LGBT campaigner with open arms.
My first thought was that there was something paradoxical in someone trying to open a door to inclusivity for an organisation which, I've always felt, is fundamentally un-inclusive.
I felt that, obviously, Adrianne should be allowed to join the women's lodge if she wanted to. Someone's gender identity has no bearing whatsoever on their ability to get drunk in public, piss off their catholic neighbours, march around singing offensive songs or wear little plastic Union Jack hats.
Predictably, a protestant fraternal organisation dedicated to a 326-year-old political vision might not be all that willing to accept a transwoman and LGBT campaigner with open arms.
Someone's assigned gender at birth doesn't make them any less able to dance on the grave of King James. The toilet someone uses doesn't prevent them from eagerly asking for the Rangers or Linfield score. I was willing to bet that there are transgender people out there with more hatred for the Vatican in one little finger than most cisgender people do in their entire bodies.
When I spoke with Adrianne directly, however, I found the situation was actually far more nuanced than I had given it credit for.
Adrianne advised me that the protocol for membership wasn't that one makes an application to join which is accepted or rejected, but that membership is instead gained on an invitational basis. She told me that she had formerly been a member of the men's lodge, and had been gently persuaded to resign for personal reasons and seek counselling.
"They weren't aggressive and they encouraged me to go and take counselling, from a Christian counsellor," Adrianne told me. "It wasn't an aggressive stance, but they are a male organisation and this is the way it is, so to speak."
When I spoke with Adrianne directly, I found the situation was actually far more nuanced than I had given it credit for. When I asked her whether she anticipated she would be invited to join the women's lodge, she said: "I really don't know. It's something I was a little bit sad about at the time."
When I asked her whether she anticipated she would be invited to join the women's lodge, she said: "I really don't know. It's something I was a little bit sad about at the time.
"When I came out publicly about my wish to transition in March of 2012 when I made it known, certain parts of my life unravelled fairly quickly. People who I thought were friends turned their backs - things like that. It was quite a tough period of time.
"It was part and parcel of a wee bit of a negative experience that was happening for me in March of 2012, so I just sort of thought this is the way it is and move on.
"I met my partner the following month and we started dating. I've built my life around other things, and we're planning to start a family of our own. I thought of this issue, I thought it would be wonderful for transgender people who wished to be able to join the women's association of the Orange Order to be able to do so, but it wasn't something I was making a personal crusade of focusing on."
When I asked Adrianne whether her wish to join the organisation was about her faith, or identity as a unionist, she told me that it was more about inclusiveness – she believes that by having her as a member it would be seen as a more modern and progressive institution, that it would be a good idea for it.
It doesn't matter if you're a white nationalist, a jihadi extremist or even a member of the Conservative party - you can't change the way you feel about your gender.
I'm very much inclined to agree. I like Adrianne Elson, in spite of her desire to join a group I've always felt was hateful. She's a stark reminder that gender dysphoria isn't something people choose to have; Northern Irish unionists can have gender identity issues, too.
It doesn't matter if you're a white nationalist, a jihadi extremist or even a member of the Conservative party - you can't change the way you feel about your gender. Although I have an admittedly low opinion of the Orange Order, it's nice to have a woman like Adrianne Elson around showing us that transgender people come from all walks of life.
At the end of the day, if you listen to the Orange Order, it claims it's all about civil rights and not supremacy. Surely any Presbyterian, regardless of whether they identify with the gender they were born as, should be admitted to the organisation?
Surely the only ones they should be trying to make feel bad about themselves are Roman Catholics? Keep your eyes on the prize, guys. Catholic-bashing is your mission objective. If you spend all of your time marginalising the LGBT community the Stuarts might sneak up and steal the crown while your back is turned, and then the Battle of the Boyne will have been fought for nothing.
Before any of King William's fans grab their pitchforks, I should point out that I'm not some uppity papist looking to pick a fight. I'm your standard liberal atheist: I think transubstantiation is stupid too. I just don't feel the need to let my neighbours know this by literally marching up the street banging a kettle drum.
I like Adrianne Elson, in spite of her desire to join a group I've always felt was hateful. She's a stark reminder that gender dysphoria isn't something people choose to have; Northern Irish unionists can have gender identity issues, too.
The only thing I really wish to say to the Orange Order in all sincerity is: you have the opportunity to do something cool for once, but I won't be surprised if you don't. As usual I won't be angry, just disappointed.
When I asked Adrianne about the future of the LGBT movement in Northern Ireland, she told me: "I think it's growing in strength and numbers all the time, and I think it can only be a matter of time before parity with the rest of the UK and Ireland in terms of equal marriage becomes a reality.
"More and more young people are finding the courage to come out and not be in the closet and express themselves publicly.
"When I first moved to Belfast 11-and-a-half years ago, I never would have imagined this. The DUP is fighting a rearguard action against this [marriage] equality, but I think it's simply a matter of time.
"A lot of people have a very negative perception of Northern Ireland and think it's backwards and regressive, but if you held a referendum here tomorrow you'd get a similar figure, or maybe even more, in favour of it than there had been in the Republic of Ireland."
Maybe times are changing after all.
Pictures courtesy of Sam Woodcock and Twitter
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