I’ve got a lot on at the moment (got a piece of coursework to complete and also going to Thought Bubble tomorrow) so I don’t have time yet to reply to my backlog of email, or to the increasingly interesting comments for the last post (I will do, especially Zom’s ones…).
But one thing I do have to do, I think, is commemorate Transgender Day Of Remembrance.
I’m not transgender myself – I’m writing here from a position of extreme privilege, and I know it – and I’m horribly aware that what I’m writing here may well come off as patronising as hell. But there are *very* few straight, cisgendered people (especially straight, cisgendered white males) who are at all vocal about prejudice against transpeople.
Transsexuality is not something I’ve ever really understood – being lucky enough never to have had to consider my own gender identity, I simply can’t get my head round it, even when it’s explained to me in very small words.
What I *can* get my head around, though, is that for a large number of people (I can think of at least eight out transpeople who I have at one point or another counted as friends or acquaintances, and I don’t have that many friends. There also may be many more – I don’t make a habit of asking people what shape genitals they were born with) this is something very, very important to them. Important enough to take hormones that can cause permanent organ damage and knock years off their lives. Important enough to undergo what sounds like excruciatingly painful surgery on some of the most sensitive parts of their body.
Even if someone’s gender or presentation mattered to me in the slightest, and even if I didn’t think it a matter of basic human decency to treat everyone more-or-less the same, if something’s that important to someone else, and all they ask of me is to remember to use a different pronoun than I otherwise would have, then it seems very obvious to me that most decent people would do that, and then forget about it.
Unfortunately, a lot of people *aren’t* decent people, and so transpeople (especially male-to-female transsexuals) are at risk of more than just someone slipping up and using their old name, or the risks that come with the medical aspects of their transsexuality. Worldwide, two or three women are killed *every week* because they are (or are suspected of being) trans. There’s been a recent mini-spate of this here in the UK, even though we’re one of the more tolerant nations (comparatively) when it comes to transsexuality and transgender people. I read recently about a case where it was considered a valid defence in court that someone killed a woman after having sex with her and then discovering she was trans.
That sort of thing doesn’t just affect those who are killed, and nor does it even just affect the trans community. It affects *everyone*. It affects those who are secretly trans but never take the action that would improve their lives, for fear of attack. It affects everyone who knows or cares about a transperson, because it affects the person they care about. It affects everyone who knows or cares about a transperson who never transitions, because they will never really know their loved one. Hate crimes and prejudice diminish *ALL* of us, not just those who are targeted by them.
And bigotry against transpeople is both socially acceptable and often invisible. The articles the loathsome Julie Bindel writes in the Guardian would, if aimed at any minority group other than transpeople (specifically people transitioning from male to female, Bindel’s particular bugbear), bring a huge amount of condemnation from the same newspaper that prints her bile and pays her for it. It’s very tempting to treat Bindel and her ilk as the real problem, but at least her bigotry is out in the open.
But other things aren’t. For example, I was horrified that when I got married (in Minnesota) I had to sign a bit of paper saying I was a man, and my wife that she was a woman, but I just thought of it as standard homophobic crap to do with anti-gay-marriage laws (I had serious ethical qualms about getting married at all in a state where gay people can’t, but had more serious qualms about not being able to have my wife live in the same country as me if we *didn’t* marry), because gay marriage is ‘an issue’.
And I’m sure the wording *was* there as an anti-gay-marriage measure, but it didn’t really hit me until a couple of years later that what I’d actually signed was that I was ‘born a man’ (which in fact isn’t true. I was born a baby. I didn’t get the beard and stuff until I was at least fourteen). The institutionalised transphobia in there as an almost incidental byproduct of the homophobia (and incidentally, that’s another reason why people like Bindel are wrong to try to separate the struggle for gay equality from the struggle for trans equality – the enemies of both groups are the same people, and see them as interchangeable) completely passed me by. (Although it does have the wonderful unintentional side-effect that gay couples can get married in Minnesota if one but not both of them is trans).
THAT kind of thing is what needs to be fought, and that kind of prejudice is going to take decades to eradicate. And in the meantime people will continue to die.
I don’t have much else to say on this, so I’ll link to this rather wonderful short story by the writer and trans activist Roz Kaveney. It’s from an anthology, Temps which she co-edited with Neil Gaiman and Alex Stewart. Temps is superhero fiction, but with a closer tone to Yes, Minister than The Dark Knight, and is essential reading, but Kaveney’s story (about a lesbian feminist who is ostracised by other feminists when she develops superpowers) taught me everything I needed to know about the Bindels of this world long before I ever realised what it was really about…