"Grindr? Jesus Christ. It’s useless to me. I've never come out on Grindr – I’ve heard so many stories where it’s just so disrespectful. I hope none of those men come from a bad place where they are trying to discriminate; many of them just come from a place of ignorance. They don’t know that it might be offensive to use certain terminology, or to ask certain questions rather than Googling them. Daniel Zagórski is a student, YouTuber, and trans advocate, originally from Poland and now living in Dublin.
I first encountered Daniel a couple of years ago at a rally in protest of a deficient Gender Recognition Act [and one that continues to fail younger members of Ireland's trans community]. The resonance of Daniel's contribution to the righteously angry energy boiling over amongst that crowd two years ago has lasted to this day. I am starstruck as he walks towards me. Referencing that same introduction as we sit down, I ask Daniel whether or not he is an accidental activist. I am interested to know if his campaigning around trans issues was decided upon deliberately, or if it was an inexorable dimension stemming from this aspect of his own identity. Given the passion of his delivery at that time, and, to quote Hari Nef, I suspect that "apathy was never an option".
On his activism's origins, Daniel says, "growing up, I never really thought of it as being a future or anything like that because for years I suppressed coming out. For years I never thought I would come out. But then I went to BeLonGTo [and my first time [there] was actually on my 18th birthday]. They encourage you to speak up and give you opportunities to do public speaking whenever there is a chance. For me, as someone who does care about these issues, it was a natural progression. I was there as a peer educator and BeLonGTo were like, 'do you want to speak at [the rally]?' and I said yes. They praised me for it, I was good at it, and it just kind of went from there".
Although Daniel made some of his first connections with people who are not straight online, BeLonGTo served as his entry point into an offline community. As essential as the internet is to self exploration and support, he emphasises the importance of offline relations, "you can find loads of friends on the internet who are bi, or trans, or are in the LGBT community, but having someone in real life is a step forward and brings it into reality". Daniel describes his own situation in this regard, in which the online and offline merged. "Right now I live with my best friend. I met her through the internet and that’s how we became friends [...] She is my rock. She is the one constant person in my life for the past three years because, when I came out, relations with my family broke down. For trans people especially I would say that usually you might not find support in every single place that you come out in, so it’s good to have other places to fall back on. It’s no good to isolate yourself; friendship will always be so important".
Inevitably, talk soon turns to Daniel's experience of last year's marriage equality campaign. Although the desired outcome was achieved, the process was fundamentally flawed along several dimensions. Amongst these was the extent to which certain identities appeared to be prioritised over others and, stemming directly from this, the inequitable sense of ownership of, and belonging to, the campaign that those bearing such identities were made feel. Daniel is acutely aware of this. "I don’t think [the campaign] was inclusive. I’m bisexual and I’m trans. And I don’t think either of those identities were highlighted at all. It was mostly gay men, and lesbian women to some extent".
This overwriting of identities and lived experiences is broadly indicative of the politics, historically, within the LGBT initialism which too often resembles a hierarchy of authority rather than a means of categorisation and organisation. As Daniel puts it, "there are gay men who do face discrimination but it’s much less than lesbian women. And then it goes bisexual people, trans people, intersex people. So there’s still a massive amount of work that has to be done".
Erasure of this sort, whether it is articulated tacitly or explicitly, represents violence on a deeply personal level. It also has implications for how wider structural change – facilitated through legislation which demands broad support – can be effected. Daniel serves up hard but necessary truths on this. "Even if you look at the gender recognition campaign versus the marriage equality campaign – and I know you can’t really compare them that closely because there’s a lot more LGB people than trans people – but, generally, it goes that when there is an issue within the trans community, that the trans community is dealing with, there isn’t really that many people from the LGB community trying to help out. Whereas when there is an LGBT issue, trans people are usually at the forefront of that – like Stonewall".
On the back of this, I ask Daniel what good trans allyship might look like [however, I accept that it should not be his responsibility to tell me, but my responsibility to learn for myself]. "It is being aware of what trans means and what it entails. The first step to being an ally is not just [about] being tolerant but being accepting of what someone is. Because I hate it when people are like, ‘oh, I tolerate them’ – tolerate isn’t really a positive word. You can tolerate something but still not like it". I agree that to say one 'tolerates' something seems as if 'but...' will follow soon after.
Daniel goes on. “If you accept someone, that’s a positive action – you accept them for who they are, you accept all that they come with. So being a good trans ally means you understand the terms that we use, and you understand how important it is for pronouns to get respected, and you are also aware of the issues that trans people face in the community. And there is a lot of them. And, where there are conversations being had within the LGBT community about LGBT issues, just to keep in mind that trans people exist and usually, in one form or another, do come into those conversations so bring that up and flag it if it’s being ignored".
Bearing in mind the quote at the beginning of this feature, I ask Daniel what, specifically, cis gay men can do. "It is disgusting to see gay men being repulsed or just intolerant of trans people when they say, ‘oh, I would never ever date a trans person’. You can’t just put an entire group of people together and say you would never date them. That gives the impression that they have a certain look or a certain quality that they all share. You can’t tell if someone is trans or not – you literally can’t. The very first thing that queer men in Ireland should do is learn what it means for someone to be trans because a lot of them don’t know".
Not all of Daniel's experiences with cis queer men have been negative, however, with one in particular standing out for him. "I’ve actually been sort of transphobic myself. Essentially, I wasn’t interested [in him] because I was putting dating stuff on hold – I was trying to prioritise other stuff. I came out [to him] as trans [thinking], ‘oh, that will deter him’. So, I was kind of being transphobic myself but he was like, ‘oh I don’t mind at all’, and that took me aback – he was actually really respectful. And when it came to intimate stuff he didn’t ask anything offensive. He went off and read up on it himself and learned what to do and what not to do. If anything came up he’d be like, ‘can I ask you a question?’".
Highlighting the oppression faced by Ireland's trans citizens as it occurs within the LGBT community and beyond should be seen as imperative in working towards ending transphobia and intolerance directed at trans people. However, on the road to trans liberation, it is surely valuable to not lose sight of those common connections that unite the LGBT community. I ask Daniel what such bonds might be for him. "There is strength in numbers. And the LGBT community has the kind of recognition it does now for being the LGBT community. We’re still considered the minority. We’re still underrepresented whether it’s in government or in the media. We still face a lot of struggles when it comes to adoption, or being accepted in society, or just being stigmatised [...] And some trans people are LGB. So there is a lot of areas of intersection". Conversations about the kind of LGBT community we want to be – encompassing, equitable, and receptive to those letters that follow L and G – must be had consistently, rather than occasionally.
Daniel recognises the need for inclusion and tolerance at a structural level as much as a personal level. "If you’re a LGBT organisation, trying to deal with, say, LGBT people adopting, whenever you put a post on your website or whenever you’re speaking about it, you can’t just speak about gay men and lesbian women adopting – you need to include those other identities within it. I think everything would follow once people in positions of power within the LGBT community make an effort to include these different identities in their discourse and in their activism". Daniel, who calls out LGBT figureheads in Ireland as being too cis, white, and gay, mentions his friend Toryn Glavin, who writes a regular column in GCN, as reflecting a positive step towards greater representation within the publication. A magazine like GCN is a first port of call for many – younger or older – who have just come out. The importance of seeing oneself represented within its pages cannot be understated.
How has Daniel's journey, and all that he has encountered on it to date, informed the way he lives his life? "It made me a lot more aware about things like sexism and hyper masculinity. It has definitely given me a lot more opportunities to be angry at how society works. And it posed a lot of difficulties so it helped me build resilience. I think, especially for trans people, a point that may be understated is the social side of things. For example, when I grew up, I was conditioned to be a teenage girl or whatever, which obviously never resonated with me hence I didn’t really hang out with many people – I stayed on the internet most of the time. What comes with that is I was expected to act a certain way, to do certain things, and, since I’ve come out, what I don’t have and what I lack is the kind of knowledge on how to bond with men. I have no problem talking to women and being friends with women, I’m grand with that, because I’ve experience in that, I know how to chat to them or whatever. Men act very different. And half of it might just be to do with disliking the hyper masculinity that is so rampant, especially around cis straight males. Not having that base, having not grown up with that, can be kind of tricky coming in to adulthood and trying to navigate it. But there’s probably a degree of overthinking that comes into it".
Finally, I am keen to learn of the differences, if any, between the Polish and Irish experience of being trans. Daniel considers both countries to be quite similar in their social conservatism and historical religiosity. However, he points to a distinctly Irish "atmosphere of acceptance" – a sort of core human decency amongst most Irish people. This is reassuring to hear from Daniel, if only to the point that such a foundation must be built upon with proactivity towards empathy, inclusion, and educating oneself around the nuance of trans lived experience.