Okay so here's the deal, in a nutshell. I'm almost 55. I wasted a lot of my earlier years having fun (and not so much fun), I have a radical voice and somehow, some way, my career really took off at 50. Now, at 54, I have just written the lead feature in Bitch magazine's 'Pleasure' issue about sexual pleasure and my trans genitals, and earlier this year I had quite a successful book out about queer, transgressive and loving sex. This year I have written for almost every magazine I ever dreamed of writing for – save Saga magazine, which turned down my pitches as frivolous attempts to radicalise 50-plus cruises down the Danube and watercolour holidays to the Dordogne.
But – and it's a huge but – I am still structurally invisible, despite reaching career highs that I never imagined possible.
"Invisible?" I hear you exclaim. "But your words are all over the place – vagina this, vagina that..."
"Yes," I reply, "structurally invisible."
Because, chances are, if I were a man in my 50s in the arts, my late-blooming career would be celebrated, held aloft, defined as undiscovered talent, brave and genuinely exciting. The bits and pieces of my career would be held in place and glued together with, well, decent payment. I'd be paid to come and talk and occasionally be offered something that affords me some security, not just travel expenses and a sandwich from Costa. I still have to fight for every career inch. Thank god for the feminist sisterhood soul of publications such as Refinery29.
Being invisible means having to hustle – at the age of 54 – to build a career, as the patriarchal structures around us deem women, and anyone defining as femme over a certain age, to be beyond a career, beyond sex and beyond new ideas. We are seen as in decline; the hiring and firing structures don't even raise their heads to acknowledge us banging on the door. Can it really be as basic as the menopause still defining us, symbolically, as 'drying out'?
These are the best years of my life, they're exciting and vibrant, but the state pension age is climbing and I need to keep working. I'm 54 and single so that means another 13 years of sole hustling. This shit really matters. I've hustled on the street before, I can't go back there in my 50s, I need visibility to string together the elements of my quite unexpected, fabulous career. Visibility simply means having potential, and potential has been packaged as belonging only to youth, so at 54 I have career highs but no potential.
I don't want to moan about my personal invisibility; as women we are constantly accused of never being happy enough when in truth it's women who more often than not seek out solutions instead of complaining. So I need to know: If I am invisible, who is shutting their eyes to avoid seeing me? It must come down to actual people because structures don't have agency, only people do. Structures enforce but people hold up.
Often it's silent forces – unwritten ideas and notions about women over a certain age – that render us invisible, but sadly it can also be other women, our peers. Not because women want to ignore or diminish other women but because patriarchy has responded to feminism and female emancipation by pitting woman against woman in a one in, one out system. When my book, Queer Sex, came out earlier this year, some trans women and trans femmes working in and around the media ignored it completely. Not a word. I could hear a pin drop in their silence. They made me feel unseen. Their silence told me so much about the fragility of our – my – visibility; of the visibility afforded to marginalised groups. Their silence made me incredibly sad. I wanted their sisterhood, I thought they were the ones I could count on. To ignore Queer Sex took some doing, but they weren't coming from a place of spite or attack. They were coming from a place constructed from the very real knowledge that publishers, agents, newspapers and TV shows openly express that they only have room for one trans femme writer, character, actor or celebrity; one in, one out. That's how they keep us marginal: older women, women of colour, lesbians, trans women. They ration places.
It's absurd how our apparent singular visibility is raised as a way to make us invisible again and, worse, to enable an arena in which we must fight one another for the only visible space. It's a capitalist, sexist, often racist dream. We've often allowed our already marginalised communities' rather brilliant noise to be curtailed by such insidious comments as "We've done trans women content this month" – in a month of a thousand cis, white men.
We hide each other in order to get on the ladder. My getting on the ladder at 50 by writing radically about trans bodies and sex rocked the boat I'm sure, but I honestly believe we should support each other and ignore these oppressive structures. We can create our own structures, our own publications, our own publishing houses, our own TV content – look at the brilliance in the structure-creation in the work of gal-dem, for example.
We need to trust in each other and not be marginalised and bossed by the patriarchal notion that women – all women – over a certain age are in decline. We need content created and designed by us, for us; we need our own robust structures that aren't one in, one out. We need to build support and we need to know, deep down, that we can rely on each other while we fight a system that calculates our worth based on the juiciness of our ageing pussies.