Content warning: contains references hate crime and violence
Why is transgender awareness important in 2020? Surely trans and non-binary visibility is higher than it has ever been? Just this week Harry Styles appeared as the first cis male on the cover of Vogue in a Gucci dress. Surely this shows that the blurring of gender boundaries is more acceptable than ever?
Well, yes – and no.
As Alok Vaid-Menon, author of Beyond the Gender Binary beautifully explained on Instagram:
‘Am I happy to see Harry be celebrated for openly flouted gendered fashion norms? Yes. Do trans femmes of colour receive praise for doing the same thing every day? No.
Do I think this is a sign of progress of society’s evolution away from binary gender? Yes. Do I think that white men should be upheld as the face of gender neutral fashion? No…
We can both acknowledge this unprecedented moment while also remembering that it could only happen because of the resistance of trans femmes of colour. We who for decades were imprisoned by cross-dressing legislation.
Make no mistake: trans femmes of colour started this and continue to face the backlash from it. Our aesthetics make it to the mainstream, but not our bodies. We are still dismissed as ‘too much’ and ‘too queer’ because we aren’t palatable enough for whiteness and heteronormativity.’
Whilst non-binary and trans images may very much be ‘in vogue’ at the moment, real trans stories and lived experiences are still often ignored, sensationalised or used for ‘debate’ about how it is or isn’t okay for trans people to be themselves. Let’s be clear – trans and non-binary folks get a rough deal. According to Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain report:
Two in five trans people (41 per cent) and three in ten non-binary people (31 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.
More than a quarter of trans people (28 per cent) in a relationship in the last year have faced domestic abuse from a partner.
One in four trans people (25 per cent) have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
One in eight trans employees (12 per cent) have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the last year.
More than a third of trans university students (36 per cent) in higher education have experienced negative comments or behaviour from staff in the last year.
Two in five trans people (40 per cent) adjust the way they dress because they fear discrimination or harassment. This number increases significantly to half of non-binary people (52 per cent).
Two in five trans people (41 per cent) said that healthcare staff lacked understanding of specific trans health needs when accessing general healthcare services in the last year.
Trans people are often the subject of debate about them posing a potential threat to others just because they might use the same public bathroom, but these statistics show that they are far more likely to be a victim of crime than a perpetrator. If you are trans and a racial minority the threat of being a victim of hate crime and violence is even higher.
So far in 2020, according to Human Rights Watch, 350 trans people have been murdered globally as a result of a hate crime. More often than not these are people who were murdered simply for existing. This is why we, your SU, recognise Transgender Day of Remembrance and stand in solidarity with our trans and non-binary members, friends and family members.
Even in the UK, where we have seen much progress in trans rights and visibility, there are still major barriers to equality and trans people’s right to self-determination. The UK Government recently announced the outcome of a three year long review into the Gender Recognition Act – the legislation that underpins the legal process by which a person can transition from one gender to another. See our blog in response to this outcome for more information.
There are many criticisms of the existing legislation – including the fact that it excludes both the option for trans people to self-define their gender without the need for medical involvement and that non-binary people are not represented in our legal system at all. For example, Belgium has recently committed to allowing people to choose ‘X’ as their gender marker on their passport, in addition to ‘M’ and ‘F’. However, the UK Government ignored the recommendations of trans people and has confirmed it will only be making minor changes to the current legislation.
As Stonewall noted, ‘After years of delay after delay, many trans people feel exhausted and frustrated…the ongoing public attention and scrutiny of trans people’s lives and identities is taking a huge toll on trans communities’.
Stonewall also said, ‘In the three years since [the review began], waiting times for Gender Identity Services have grown longer than ever, recorded anti-trans hate crimes have trebled, and anti-trans bullying remains endemic in our schools.’
The legal situation can be even more complicated if you are trans and are a parent, or wish to become one, with the Guardian reporting this week on a trans man who gave birth to a child but is required by law to register as the mother, not the father of his baby. Because our legal system only allows for two genders, it is not current equipped to deal with the nuance of how trans and non-binary people identify and live their lives.
uea(su) and your officer team will continue to support and provide a safe space for our trans and non-binary students. If you or someone you know would like some support around gender and identity, you can get in touch with our advice(su) service and our UEA Pride peer support group. You can also check out UEA Pride’s event for Transgender Awareness Week here.