To kick of our Gender Month, Karen Pollock expresses her disappointment with celebrities who want to police who is “trans enough”
March 31st is growing to a close as I write. In the fading sunlight of a fine spring day trans people, allies, community groups, and organisations are settling on the sofa, hopefully reflecting on a good day. For March 31st is also Trans day of Visibility. As the dark days of November bring with them sober remembrance of those who have been lost to transphobic violence, so the bright days of spring bring us a time of celebration. Both are needed, life is about more than its ending, but to ignore the violence is to ignore the reality of so many trans lives.
Days like Trans Day of Visibility matter, the story which made the headlines of someone in their 90s finally able to express their true self shows how much they matter. Simply knowing the language to describe how you feel is a step on the road to knowing who you are. Unfortunately, it is also a day for ticking boxes, for organisations to show themselves to be trans friendly, without addressing structural change – and for individuals to self promote.
It is the brandification of the person; pushed by social media, and encouraged by media titles who know that whilst everyone complains about people like Katie Hopkins they still click to read. Opinions which could be nuanced and thoughtful are dismissed. Clickbait rules, and it is all about hits.
As the dark days of November bring with them sober remembrance of those who have been lost to transphobic violence, so the bright days of spring bring us a time of celebration
Which brings me to the way that Pink News chose to mark Trans Day of Visibility. They ran a piece by India Willoughby entitled “Unless you are transitioning, stay out of the ladies”. Now, first a little background: this rather tawdry attempt to win publicity on the back of the issues in America references a trans person who was denied use of the toilets in a pub in the UK. This, unfortunately, is not uncommon. It happens due to a lack of training within all levels of a company. It is far too easy for a fine sounding policy document to be produced, which never actually filter down to customer facing staff. The case referenced was not the first, and sadly will not be the last, even with the protections of the Equality Act and the Kirkless case (which established in case law denial of access to appropriate gender toilets is discrimination). The UK is not the US. We don’t sell guns in Walmart, and we do have protections in law for minority groups. The debate in the UK is moving past “should trans people be allowed to pee in peace?” and into discussions of what accessible (for all) toilets should look like. This is a good thing, even if we have to be aware that discrimination still exists.
Yet, Willoughby’s belief is that only binary trans people who are transitioning should be protected by the law. We need to ask ourselves, what does “transition” mean? It might sound obvious but of course, it is not. The language of “sex changes” and “born in the wrong body” is as outdated as Betamax videos and Walkmans. It is true that some people do prefer to describe their experience of their gender as a medical condition which is treated by surgery, whilst others feel that pathologisation diminishes their experience. It resembles the arguments about disability, with some using a social model of disability, which says they do not need to be “fixed” whilst others look for cures. Our relationship with our own sense of self – our identity – is intensely personal, and it is not for one to define for others how they must feel. However, transition is not, as seems to be claimed in the article, a fixed process. When would we define transition? From the moment someone questions their gender? Or the moment that someone receives medical intervention? If the latter, does that mean that people on NHS waiting lists are not trans? Of course not. The fact is transition is a cis concept, designed to pin down into neat boxes the messy thing we call gender. There is no gold star of transness which declares someone trans enough, except in the heads of those who seek to validate their own identities by pulling down others. Trying to explain how we personally experience gender is like trying to explain faith to an atheist. Indeed, it reminds me of a conversation I once had with someone who couldn’t understand how a parent loves their children equally. It is something you can experience, but very rarely describe.
The idea of transition (in the narrow) has undergone medical interventions, not only excludes trans people who have not, or cannot undergo such interventions, but many non-binary people. By India’s logic an assigned female at birth non binary person who has no medical interventions cannot use a toiled designated for females. Now they may not want to, but, they are more likely, when using public toilets to want to use one with cubicles where they will not be stopped. They are not a cis woman, nor are they undergoing transition, so, they must apparently use the men’s. It is worth noting, that rather like the Republicans in America, the piece ignores the existence of trans men, and AFAB non-binary people. Transmisogny is it seems alive and well.
The debate in the UK is moving past should trans people be allowed to pee in peace and into discussions of what accessible (for all) toilets should look like.
Furthermore, we have to ask if the problem here really is cross-dressers using the bathroom, something which I confess I have only ever witnessed in gay bars? I have a sneaking suspicion that even if every binary trans person carried a card signed by the surgeon who performed their bottom surgery to be produced when they peed, some would still complain. This isn’t about how well you pass, or how much money you have – although they protect famous trans people from some of the severe hardships poorer trans people endure. This is about transphobia and transmisogyny. Some will always object to trans people and will always find ways to oppress, and deny their gender. It is something which only education, in the broadest sense of the word, can challenge. Just as it has taken years to turn around the idea that homosexuality is a medical disorder, that lesbians just needed a real man, so it will take time to win acceptance of trans people. That cannot happen whilst some trans people are looking down on other trans people as not trans enough.
The fact is transition is a cis concept, designed to pin down into neat boxes the messy thing we call gender
Bathroom panics are the instrument of those who believe no trans people should live their lives in freedom. No trans person has ever assaulted a cis person in a toilet. We do not need to argue about who is or is not trans enough, we need to confront those who have found a new anti LGBTQ cause to rally around. I am disappointed but unsurprised in a world of Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan someone new has decided to build a career on controversy. I just think we can do so much better than this.
Follow Karen on Twitter (@CounsellingKaz)
4 thoughts on “The UK does not need a cut price Caitlyn Jenner”
Maybe someone should ask India which toilet she used before transition, because no way do I believe she didn’t crossdress in public before deciding to go full-time.
Obviously I cannot comment on India, but yes, many trans people will appear to be cross dressers at some point on their journey
In the US only 20% of trans women have GCS. This is due to a variety of factors with the primary one being cost. The price of the surgery is $20,000 plus and is not covered by most insurance policies. Then there is the time off from work, travel expenses and the cost of after care.
Many states have no legal protection for trans people so transitioning on the job can be very problematical. We do what we can to survive in an nation that is less than accepting. I may not be trans enough for some but I am certainly trans enough for me and the members of my community. And that is all that matters
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That is indeed all that matters, our own sense of self is what’s important, not meeting the arbitary standards of others