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Munroe Bergdorf
Photography Luke Nugent, illustration Callum Abbott

Munroe Bergdorf: being trans in 2021 is an endurance test

The activist, model, and author reflects on Britain’s transphobia – from hate crimes to mental health and strained NHS clinics, the media and government wilfully ignore the issues that stoke trans genocide

Trans women are women. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘choose to challenge’, and today on Dazed, we’re challenging the TERFs. In 2020, the UK government scrapped urgent reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, and a global pandemic continues to cut many trans people off from vital healthcare, all while trans-exclusionary radical feminists spout anti-trans rhetoric. On IWD, we celebrate trans strength and resilience.

“The best thing about being trans is being trans, the worst thing about being trans is other people,” is something I said in 2019. Two years later, unfortunately that’s very much still the tea.

Being transgender in 2021 is an exhausting test of endurance, where an already heavily marginalised community is expected to jump through hoops while navigating an increasingly hostile social and political environment, both on and offline. In recent years, we have seen the British press become the weapon of choice for anti-trans groups, who are actively seeking to wind back transgender rights – more specifically, the healthcare rights of transgender youth and transgender women’s access to women-only spaces. 

British transphobia is systemic and protected by the establishment, with many anti-trans activists or TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) being employed at major national newspapers to disseminate anti-trans propaganda. Transphobia is often presented as an ‘alternative point of view’, ‘freedom of speech’, or ‘open debate’ in a way that other forms of discrimination such as racism, homophobia, or misogyny simply are not. Our rights are debated on national television, often without any trans people present. Our inclusion is often protested and characters assassinated, by people who don’t know and don’t want to know any trans people in a personal capacity.

The British press refuses to draw attention to increasingly urgent matters affecting the community, such as the fact that, as of last year, there are over 13,500 trans and non-binary adults waiting for their first appointment at NHS gender identity clinics across England. Many of those adults are having to wait up to three years to be seen by a specialist, just to help them begin their medical transition. Or the fact, that in 2019, transgender hate crimes reported to police across England, Scotland, and Wales had soared by 81 per cent in one year. Instead, the media seems intent on running a reductive campaign of fear and confusion when reporting about ‘the transgender issue’, with little to no intention to report the facts of ‘transgender realities’, nor to find a resolve for the obstacles that we face on daily basis. Rather, they choose to incessantly write about what toilets we should be using, the unfounded dangers of gender neutral restrooms, and the outrage over certain high street shops adopting trans inclusive policies for their changing rooms.

The lives of transgender youth, and the services that support them, such as Mermaids, are under consistent attack, despite the fact that medical experts have repeatedly stated that supporting a child to either socially or medically transition reduces the risk of them taking their own lives. The ‘transgender issue’ is consistently painted as “children are increasingly identifying as transgender, and yours could be next unless you act”, not “children are increasingly exploring their gender identity, and here’s how to support their mental and physical wellbeing”. Stopping your child from transitioning, exploring, or expressing their gender identity doesn’t stop them being trans, it just makes them unhappy and increases the risk of you having no child at all in the future. 

But this growing backlash against the existence of transgender youth isn’t unique to the UK. In America, 17 states are contemplating enforcing bills that would make it a criminal offence to provide transgender youth with gender-affirming healthcare. In Minnesota, a bill has been introduced that calls for transgender girls to face juvenile detention, criminalising them if they seek to be affirmed by their gender at school. 26 states are working to introduce ways to legally ban transgender children from participating in sports, yet lawmakers in almost every case are unable to cite one single instance in their own state where transgender inclusion in sport has caused any problems at all. 

This news comes as the US House passed The Equality Act, a piece of legislation designed to protect the labour and civil rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. The act passed by a 224-206 margin, but with many Republicans expressing concerns that the legislation does not ensure ‘religious freedom’ (to discriminate against LGBTQ+ folk), it faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. The wellbeing, safety, health, and education of transgender youth is being sidelined in favour of hysteria revolving around baseless hypothetical concerns and falsehoods perpetuated by bigoted elected conservative officials. All the while, at least 44 transgender or gender non-conforming Americans were murdered during 2020, the vast majority being Black transgender women. Transgender people make up just 0.6 per cent of the American population.

“The wellbeing, safety, health, and education of transgender youth is being sidelined in favour of hysteria revolving around baseless hypothetical concerns and falsehoods” – Munroe Bergdorf

What we are seeing is a coordinated attack on transgender rights as a whole by far-right, conservative governments. This isn’t about the wellbeing of children, protection of religious rights, nor the safety of cisgender women, it’s about discouraging people from transitioning, and keeping transgender people out of sight and mind. This is a campaign of erasure not too dissimilar to the intent behind the Tories’ Section 28 legislation of 1988, where “the promotion of homosexuality” was banned in Britain’s schools. But just as not supporting a kid’s sexuality doesn’t stop them from being lesbian, gay, or bi, not supporting a kid’s gender expression doesn’t stop them from being trans or non-binary, it just traumatises them into adult life. 

So, the question remains, what are governments going to do to protect the wellbeing of an already heavily marginalised group? And when? Or are they going to continue this assault on our civil rights and our emotional and physical wellbeing under the guise of ‘safety concerns’? Safety for whom? It’s definitely not the safety of the trans community, who are already disproportionately more likely to encounter violence, discrimination, unemployment, homelessness, mental illness, and abuse. At what point can we be honest about what this transatlantic trend truly is? Genocide.