Today is Transgender Day of Visibility, also known as Transgender Awareness Day. Though it’s rare now for a day to pass without trans people being in the news, you might think you know everything you need to know already, but hold that thought. While trans people are frequently talked about, trans voices are rarely heard directly.
A study by Trans Media Watch found that The Sun published 188 stories about trans people between 1st August 2017 and 31st October 2018, and of the 123 which were negative, only 15% included any kind of trans perspective, with just six including comment from a named trans person. Other papers and current affairs programmes are not much better, so the chances are that most of what you think you know about trans people comes from other people’s ideas about them, and not from trans people themselves.
Trans people are not all the same
If you want to know what trans people themselves think, the first thing to bear in mind is that their views vary like anyone else’s. Whilst some opinions are more common than others, there is no one voice which represents all of them any more than there’s one voice for Asian Scots or one voice for women. Being treated as monolithic is a large part of the problem in the current climate, contributors to this article said, because it opens the door to stereotyping and then to prejudice.
‘Trans’ is, in fact, most commonly used as an umbrella term for groups of people who face very different challenges in life. That said, when members of those groups are asked what they would like their fellow Scots to know about them, several points come up repeatedly.
Being trans is not a fad or ideology
First of all, trans people want you to know that they don’t identify as they do because of a fad. They point out that trans people have always existed, citing historic examples like the Roman Emperor Elagabalus, who adopted female terms of address and sought out the 3rd Century version of gender confirmation surgery; and the 18th Century Chevalier d’Eon, a soldier, tax expert, diplomat and noted duellist who managed to get his gender legally changed by claiming that it had been incorrectly recorded as female for inheritance purposes. Some trans people struggled for decades to find another way of living before they eventually came out. Others, who are still young, felt that their gender had been misunderstood from an early age.
“We don’t ‘choose’ or ‘prefer’ or ‘acquire’ our gender. It chooses us,” said one trans woman, adding “None of us do this because it is fun or easy. It often takes a lot of internal struggle to accept who we are and then we know that we will be treated as second class citizens or worse by enough people to make day to day life often unpleasant at best.”
Another contributor to this article felt it important to point out that being trans isn’t an ‘ideology’ – it’s widely accepted as a fact within the medical community and this is embedded in WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) standards of care. Transition is the only established way to end feelings of gender dysphoria which vary in strength from person to person but are associated with anxiety, depression, and a very high suicide risk. The American Psychiatric Association, whose manuals are treated as the gold standard for the profession in Scotland as well, no longer classifies being trans as a psychiatric disorder.
Some people pointed out that just because we don’t know why some people are trans (and others aren’t) doesn’t mean that it’s made up, any more than being gay or left-handed is made up. One noted that left-handed people also used to be persecuted for being different. Attempts were made to force them to write with their right hands, which seems ridiculous to most people today. Thankfully, society has moved on.
Others were keen to make clear that their gender has nothing to do with their sexuality, with gendered feelings tending to develop a lot earlier in life than sexual ones. Trans people have the same variety of sexual orientations as anybody else. Not one person could relate the claims that they had changed their gender in order to ‘become straight’, with some pointing out that for them it had been the other way round, and others saying that they think the abuse they receive for being trans is worse than abuse they receive, or have received in the past, for being gay or lesbian.
Finally, almost every trans person who contributed to this article said something along the lines of “I just want to be left alone.”
“I just want to live quietly and with dignity”, said one woman. “If you speak to me you’ll see I’m not some curiosity, but a fully rounded person with interests that are probably the same as yours.”
“We don’t want to take away anyone’s rights. We just want to get on with our lives,” said a non-binary contributor, adding in jest, “We’re just like you are, only a bit cooler.”