The press hysteria surrounding trans and non-binary people is a flaming trash can
Over the summer, Equalities Minister Justine Greening announced the system for legally changing your gender would get a little bit easier. At the moment, under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, I would have to appear before a panel including medical experts to ‘prove’ that I’ve been ‘living as a woman’ for at least two years.
That slightly draconian system wasn’t fit for purpose. For one thing, I’ve been quite happily ‘living as a woman’ my whole life, it just took me a few years to get my head around the whole trans situation. Moreover, I already have a passport, a driver’s license, a bank account, and Netflix all under my ‘new’ identity. Going before a panel of total strangers for some Sorting Hat moment to claim a new birth certificate isn’t the top of my priority list to be honest. Like do you even know where your birth certificate is? I’m betting it’s somewhere in your parent’s cobwebby attic.
What’s more, the current system badly lets down gender non-binary or genderfluid people who feel their identity is not defined as male, female, man or woman. Under the new proposals, non-binary people could apply for a birth certificate with gender listed as ‘X’.
As we edge closer to the new proposals coming into law, there’s been a growing, nigh-on rabid, hysteria in the media. Barely a day goes by when Piers Morgan isn’t having a gender-related froth at the mouth on Good Morning Britain. Discussing the proposed changes to the GRA on the Radio 4 Today show, John Humphreys subjected Stonewall’s Bex Stinson to a barrage of woefully ill-informed opinions such as “If a man thinks he's a woman all he has to do is fill in a form ... he doesn't need to convince anybody” and also “Are we getting to the stage of erasing gay experience and relabelling it as transgender?”. No, John, no-one is saying that.
I’m considering putting a blow-up bed in various newsrooms for how often I’m wheeled out to ‘debate’ very basic human rights. We all, perhaps, need to CALM DOWN. Here, I’d like to isolate some of the recent witch-hunt bin-fire nonsense currently filling the tabloids and attempt to separate reality from fiction.
MYTH: Transgender people are changing ‘what it means’ to be male or female.
REALITY: For one thing, contrary to popular opinion, trans people are nothing new. Transgender people were recorded in the art and poetry of Ancient Greece so we can all relax. It’s not an invasion. We’re not pod people or body snatchers.
For me, the ‘trans’ part of my identity refers to a process by which I’m becoming a more realistic version of my self. Too often people get hung up on the trans part and overlook the fact we’re just men or women going about our business. When faced with little boxes, I tick the ‘woman’ box because it best suits who I am and how I feel. How I have always felt. I didn’t ask to be born the way I was.
The box I tick in no way affects the box you tick. Having an extra box for ‘non-binary’ still won’t affect the box you tick.
MYTH: There is a ‘Powerful Trans Lobby’.
REALITY: This is the idea that a cabal of well-placed transgender people in politics and the media are secretly manipulating policy to suit our nefarious agenda. I mean, c’mon, seriously?
We know, from the Guardian’s list of the thousand most powerful people in the country, that white men are still firmly in charge. If trans people have made any gains in terms of rights and legal protection it’s down to small, very hard-working, pressure groups such as All About Trans or Stonewall. At this stage, with so little power in society, we rely wholeheartedly on cis allies within the media, parliament and industry.
I’m not a fan of vying to be the best victim – because why would you want to be – but trans people (especially trans women of colour) are very vulnerable to abuse, harassment, sexual assault and violence. So far, forty-three trans people (that we know of) have been murdered in 2017.
Current discourse around trans and nonbinary people in the media fuels this harassment and violence. I don’t know why it would come as a surprise that lurid tabloid headlines and breakfast TV ‘debates’ empower spotty little oiks in the queue at Thorpe Park to call me a ‘tranny’, but there you go.
MYTH: Children are being ‘forced’ to transition.
REALITY: Oh where to start? I always think ‘WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN’ is the last line of defence when any tangible facts have been exhausted. I cannot repeat this enough. Gender confused children are NOT being wheeled, kicking and screaming, into surgery like in The Golden Compass.
If a young person presents with gender dysphoria they go through the same (glacially slow) process as any other person with the same diagnosis: they will receive counselling; CAMHS may help child, family and school to adjust; they will be referred to a Young Person’s Gender Identity Clinic for further support. This process takes literally months and years. The notion that children or parents are making sweeping changes after watching one YouTube video on a whim is grossly inaccurate. The University of Washington found children as young as five have a very fixed sense of their gender. Vitally the gender perception of trans youth was as fixed as non-trans youth.
Some young adults – not children – may be prescribed hormone blockers to see off the onset of puberty. Again, this isn’t done frivolously and can’t be obtained privately. This keeps the individual’s body in stasis so should they choose to medically transition in adulthood, they won’t have to ‘undo’ the wrong puberty. Man, I wish this had been available to me as a young adult, it would have saved a lot of body dysphoria in adulthood.
MYTH: Being transgender is ‘a phase’ or ‘trendy’.
REALITY: Well, yes. If we’re talking numerical trends, transitioning is indeed trendy insofar as referral rates are up at every Gender Identity Clinic in the UK. This has had a huge impact however on wait times, meaning initiating medical transition can’t be done on a whim. Even private clinics insist on cooling off periods and refuse to treat minors.
Some corners of the internet are obsessed with the notion of ‘detransitioning’ – formerly trans people realising they’d been brainwashed by the aforementioned ‘powerful trans lobby’ and giving it up as a bad job.
First hand accounts suggest the reasons for abandoning medical transition are complex: familial rejection, depression, transphobic abuse, anxiety, unrealistic expectations of medical outcomes. Transition is not a walk in the park, let me tell you. That said, officially ‘detranisition’ rates are incredibly low, an estimated 1-2 percent. Dr Marci Bowers, a leading gender surgeon actually points to how few people reverse a medical transition as tacit evidence that trans identities are fairly fixed and reliable. Anecdotally, Dr Stuart Lorimer of London-based Gendercare suggests 15 of his 4,000+ patients have ceased hormone therapy under his watch.
Some studies refer to ‘regret rates’ regarding surgeries, although that can refer to disappointment with the results of surgeries rather than the trans identity itself.
But for me, with a number of genderfluid friends and trans friends who don’t want hormones and surgeries for a myriad of reasons, what’s the big deal? Oscillating between gender norms, gender labels and identities seems perfectly de rigueur when I’m touring high schools at the moment. Vitally, one person’s ‘detransition’ in NO WAY invalidates the many thousands of people worldwide who do, just as my medical transition is no more valid than my trans friends who don’t or can’t.
MYTH: Trans people are in a ‘war’ against feminists.
REALITY: You may have seen there was a confrontation between rival protesters in Hyde Park last month. Some reports would have you believe that ‘feminists’ were attacked by ‘violent trans protesters’. But it’s not that simple is it? Because the ‘violent trans protesters’ also identify as feminists, so what we really had was a protest that turned violent.
I believe violence is always wrong. I think an argument is lost the second a punch is thrown.
You’re probably blissfully unaware of the term ‘TERF’. It’s used in some quarters to describe ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists’. It’s a mostly internet-based hobby whereby some people spend a lot of time online trying disprove the ‘reality’ of trans people or prove we’re all a violent threat.
As you can imagine, events like those in Hyde Park are used to demonise all transgender people very quickly. I hope most people can see past that bigotry. I am a strident feminist. I work towards the advancement of all women and girls as do many, many trans women. Furthermore I know a wealth of cisgender feminists – Caitlin Moran, Gloria Steinem, Judith Butler – actively welcome trans women into discussions about feminism.
MYTH: Women’s prisons will be full of ‘men’.
REALITY: I suppose it makes sense that people would have questions about where transgender people ‘fit’ with single-sex places. Increasingly gyms, swimming pools, high street stores and toilets are gender-neutral anyway. If you have an individual booth to change or pee in, I don’t suppose it really matters. I don’t see anyone kicking off about gender neutral toilets on aeroplanes.
But prisons are hitting the headlines. On one hand we have cases of trans people being sent to the wrong prison (like Vikki Thompson who killed herself in a men’s prison in 2015) or, more recently, the issues surrounding those in the correct prisons like Jessica Winfield. Again, the press had a gory field day with a convicted rapist serving time in a women’s prison.
These are isolated examples. With so few positive stories about trans people in the press I worry this sort of reporting demonises the rest of us. I cannot imagine Winfield is the only dangerous woman in the high security women’s prison. But she doesn’t represent anyone other than herself. Nor was she, as the Sun suggested, isolated for making ‘inappropriate advances’.
Will women’s prisons suddenly be overrun with pretend trans women after the Gender Recognition Act reforms go through? Of course not. Vikki Thompson was a trans woman and she couldn’t even get into a women’s prison. If you read the small print, Winfield started her gender transition over ten years ago, the move coming after a very long legal process.
We have to take a collective breath when it comes to trans issues. There has been blanket media coverage, and some are clearly unsettled by what they, inaccurately, regard as an ‘influx’. In response, trans and nonbinary people, worried about our rights, treatment and safety are ultra defensive.
Media stories are misrepresentative and misleading. I always think it’s important to seek the information from the horse’s mouth. The first rule when reading media stories should be, has the tabloid actually spoken to a trans or nonbinary person? More so than ever, we must understand that opinions, however spicy, are neither news or facts.