(Please note, in this post I will be using ‘trans’ as a shorthand for people who self-define as transgender, transsexual, transvestite, ‘tranny’, genderqueer, or any of half-a-dozen other ‘non-standard’ gender definitions. Doing so is not intended to erase the distinctions between these different groups, merely to focus on similarities of their experience. I mention this because there has apparently been a recent blog-war about what terms are and are not offensive, and I have not got a full enough understanding of the consensus on this subject to be sure I’m not causing offence).
I am cisgendered. I do not understand what it is like to be trans, and never will. I am told that even among cisgendered people I am unusual in just *how* cisgendered I am – apparently I am the least ‘in touch with his feminine side’ man several of my friends know. I will never be able to understand what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in the gender role to which society and/or biology have assigned you.
I mention this upfront not to distance myself from trans people, but to apologise for this post, because transgender day of remembrance is a day very specifically for trans people, and I do not want to appear to be intruding on it – “But I’m a straight white man! Of *COURSE* I matter here!”
But I consider it very, very important that those of us who do have privileges speak up alongside those who don’t. I’m a Liberal Democrat, and the most important thing about that to me is that our idea of equality (however imperfectly put into practice by the current governmen) is not to remove rights from anyone, but to turn what were formerly privileges into rights, and ensure that everyone has those rights.
Unfortunately, the equalities bill which came into action recently, while it did a lot of good in a lot of ways (criminalising discrimination against various groups and so forth), had one horrible, *AWFUL* flaw – as well as creating protected classes against whom one could not discriminate, it also created a class against whom it is now enshrined in law that one *CAN* discriminate – trans people. Or, more precisely, anyone who *APPEARS* trans. If you apply for a female-only job but look to someone like you might have been born with a penis, or want to use the gent’s toilet but look a little feminine, it’s perfectly legal for you to be refused. Laws like this *need* to be changed
I’ve – shamefully – even been complicit in legalised discrimination against trans people myself. When I got married in Minnesota, I had to sign a form saying, among other things, that I was ‘born a man’ (which isn’t true – I was born a baby. If this nullifies my marriage I shall be most annoyed). This was introduced specifically to discriminate against gay people – the discrimination against trans people was just an extra bit of nastiness (trans people don’t often come up in the ‘gay marriage’ debate).
In Britain we do have ‘gay marriage’ – of a sort (civil partnerships) – but even there there is discrimination against trans people. If someone gets married but later goes through transition and wants to be legally recognised as a different gender from the one on their birth certificate, they have to get divorced. Yes, you read that right, the government actually forces one group of people, who have already legally married, to get a divorce. You can then get a civil partnership, but no-one should have to go through that. ‘Auntysarah’ describes what that’s like.
These laws need to be changed, and all of us – cis or trans, gay, straight, bi or other, male, female, neuter, whatever – all of us need to work against these things as a matter of urgency.
Now, you may think this doesn’t really matter, that it’s not a high priority. These changes will happen in time, slowly, no matter what. Nobody really wants this stuff to happen, it’s just edge cases of badly-drafted laws. Who cares? You and everyone you know aren’t bigots – you treat everyone equally, and give people the pronoun they want, and would certainly never refer to anyone by their birth name rather than the name they’ve chosen – you’re a nice person. You just think there are more important things.
On the other hand (though I sincerely hope this doesn’t apply to any readers of my blog) you might think that these people *deserve* to be discriminated against. Maybe you think God doesn’t like them very much, and they should be punished for disobeying his commandments. Maybe you’re a self-defined feminist who only wants to support rights for ‘women born women’, like Germaine Greer or Julie Bindel. Maybe you’re a gay rights activist who believes that trans people are ‘really’ gay people in denial (yes, people who think this do exist, and it’s not helped by evil thugs like the Iranian government forcibly transitioning gay people).
What I would say to both groups is, simply, do you think that being trans should carry a death sentence?
Because the lowest estimates I’ve been able to find show that trans women are murdered at least ten times as often as other people (those are the *lowest* estimates, remember) (I haven’t been able to find figures for trans men – the way trans men are treated in current discourse is a whole other problem). FORTY-ONE PERCENT of trans people have attempted suicide at one time or another. Even discounting the hugely higher rates of assault, rape, and other horrors that are inflicted on trans people, when large numbers of people are dying, it needs to be stopped.
This happens because one group of people are not being regarded as fully human, and when someone’s not seen as fully human, people have a disturbing tendency to not mind hurting or killing them. And when the law discriminates against that group, then it’s reinforcing that view.
Now, I have purely selfish motives here. I have good friends who are trans, who I like talking to (and some of them sometimes lend me money). There are writers and musicians who are trans whose work I like, and want more of. There are trans activists within my party who help work for the things I want. If those people are murdered, or hounded to suicide, I will have fewer people to talk to and borrow money from, fewer good books and records, and I’ll have to do more work myself.
So please, just to make the life of this straight white cis man slightly easier, would you take a moment to remember the trans people (many of whom were also non-straight and/or non-white) who have been killed because of barbaric attitudes and ill-thought-out laws, and then put a little effort into trying to ensure that the things I consider basic rights (like being able to stay married so long as my wife will put up with me, and being able to use the public toilet appropriate to my gender) actually *become* basic rights, rather than, as they are now, privileges?
If any of you are unaware of the injustices that trans people have to put up with, I’d point you to the Questioning Transphobia group-blog, although that’s primarily from a USian point of view. In the UK, ‘Aunty Sarah’ and Zoe Imogen write about these issues (among many others) from a Lib Dem perspective. And Roz Kaveney, among her poetry and critical writings, has some very incisive stuff to say from a lifetime of experience of fighting these battles (she’s one of a very small number of Labour people I still follow on Twitter post-election, because she’ll actually make a coherent argument against something I say rather than just screeching).
Addendum: I wrote this post with a migraine, and as a result I have less control of the tone than I would normally have – but I wanted to get this up today. If anything I have said in this post is in any way offensive or patronising to trans people, I apologise. If there are any egregious errors or instances of my cis privilege getting in the way, please let me know in comments.