My hands gripped the cardboard sign firmly, fingertips boring into the sides. I lifted it high, a heady mix of euphoria and frustration bloomed between my eyes, as I screamed to the masses surrounding me, “SYSTEM CHANGE! NOT CLIMATE CHANGE! SYSTEM CHANGE! NOT CLIMATE CHANGE!”
Others took up the chant, filling the air with the breath of thousands strong. Young kids, teens, old punks, hijabis, groups of students, people from all over London walked alongside me…and yet, I felt as I’d always felt at these events; surrounded, but really, quite alone.
The climate crisis and the events of COP26 took a lead role in my life, as they have done for a long time. Our generation is concerned for the health of our home. Leaders yap away at these summits, throwing around clandestine finales, exaggerated promises, and ever vaguer goal posts are put down. Nothing is every concrete.
“[The conversations] of those who decide the fate of our planet and our futures have been the most eurocentric, whitewashed, cis-washed and male centred conversations I’ve ever witnessed”
Marching in London, above all the speaking, the colourful banners and the signs, you could almost see it… the air was thick with the desire for change.
It means so much to change. When we ask for a changed system, we are stressing that the old one is broken. We mean to tear down this rotting, lazily taped together carapace of corruption and replace it with a newer, fairer, more comfortable version.
Of course, climate change has been at the forefront of my mind these past few weeks. But really, it’s always been there. I have led a life of loving wildlife and the natural world. Writing about it, conserving it, stealing hours from sleep to watch the birds fly at dawn, or the badgers in the next garden creep out at night, I have built my career and my studies around nature and the environment. I have a deep love for this world. Climate change threatens that world.
Being vocal about my feelings towards our changing planet means I have gained some access to the conversations around it. I’ve learnt quite a bit. Mainly that these conversations, of those who decide the fate of our planet and our futures, have been the most eurocentric, whitewashed, cis-washed and male centred conversations I’ve ever witnessed. And that frustrates me the most.
I am trans. A non-binary Muslim. I came out this year and started hormone therapy almost a month ago. I’ve not been living as myself for very long – I sure have felt the hard elbow of discrimination digging into me for much longer.
“This arena is full of people telling us that we don’t belong, if not with their words, then with their actions”
It’s hard enough being a young person of colour in the natural history and conservation industry, with ‘environment professionals’ being deemed the second least diverse area of work in the UK. This arena is full of people telling us that we don’t belong, if not with their words, then with their actions. Add to it the layers of trans identity, queerness, and working in media, as a filmmaker and a writer, and it’s impossible not to feel the pressure. This claustrophobic mesh closes in, puckered with questions about diversity, about representation. I question myself so often: am I doing enough?
My struggles as a trans person are inherently linked to the climate struggle, and to the struggle of people everywhere. The idea that trans liberation is linked to class struggle, to racism, feminism, to climate change – it all comes down to the inherent truth that we live in a society that pushes us to conform; we are all told to forge one path, to one goal. It must delete chaos, and in the process, individuality. Trans liberation is the struggle against this.
It is the struggle against the stereotypes we have all been pushed into, against this system. A system that fuels climate change. The concept of system change – that’s trans liberation. And yet, for all our similar struggles, the trans community has been systematically erased from these conversations. And as a trans person of colour, I feel the pain of erasure and discrimination even more.
“I felt that even as we marched, I would never really be taken seriously in this conversation”
Watching these summits and conversations happen, and walking in marches for years, I felt a deep sadness, and an almost unfillable void within me. I felt that even as we marched, I would never really be taken seriously in this conversation. Recently, I have been invited to many talks and events, to speak about issues relating to diversity and climate change, and that’s fine. It signals to me that despite everything, I am speaking and people are listening.
The progress is slow, and I am often the only person representing trans people of colour in these spaces. As a society we are often riddled with tokenism, and I feel at times that I am at the heart of this, as though I am arguing a case for even being in these rooms. That me being there is simply ticking a box and then pulling the ladder up behind me.
Perhaps this is a side-effect of imposter syndrome, and the lack of confidence I have in myself, in a world that represents none of me. The truth is we can’t win this battle walking the same paths as before.
“I yearn for the day when I not only belong at the table, but I am at the table to speak about more than just the importance of belonging there.”
The conversations around climate change need to become more diverse. We don’t want ticked boxes – a single, unknown brown face in a sea of white. One cisgender woman in a room of men. A gay man in a room of straight men. This isn’t representation. This isn’t solving anything.
We need to address the idea that we see cisgender, white, straight men as the “norm”. Trans people of colour are erased everywhere. We have been systematically beaten down throughout the years, our identities dismissed with a wave of a hand. What people need to understand is the struggle for our identity, and the struggle for our freedom – that’s a struggle for your freedom, too.
As I fight against climate change, for my own happiness, for representation, and deeply, inherently, for system change, I yearn for the day when I not only belong at the table, but I am at the table to speak about more than just the importance of belonging there. Because perhaps then, we won’t need the table at all.
Dawood Qureshi is a queer Muslim writer. They are a freelance journalist, TV researcher at BBC Natural History Unit, wildlife filmmaker, ambassador for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and an Engagement Officer for the youth led nature organisation A Focus On Nature. @GoWildForBees
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