By Charlie Todd |
Being a transgender or non-binary individual in British society has never been easy, and it’s not getting any easier.
2020 has been a difficult year, globally for almost everyone. I don’t have the space in this article to discuss the full scope of the pandemic, as well as the political turmoil that we have seen throughout the world. However, one friend summed it up astutely: “we’re all in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats”. Today, I’m going to be writing about the boat I’ve been in as a transgender person in 2020.
Throughout the year there have been countless attacks on the transgender community in the UK’s media. Over the summer, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, has made her (frankly disgusting) views on trans women abundantly clear. Her attitudes were a catalyst for a tidal wave of transphobia to pass through the media largely unchallenged, which once again led to the demonization of one of the most marginalized groups in society. Last month, UK parliament decided to scrap a two-year plan to reform the Gender Recognition Act – despite 70% of the country supporting self-identification rights. This act would allow people to self-identify in regards to their gender, which is vital in taking the first step towards acceptance in society.
Given the contemporary examples of transphobia , when trans and non-binary people share their voice, we do so in the knowledge that we’re losing an aspect of our privacy. Not everyone appreciates our sacrifice. People may ask invasive and inappropriate questions about our bodies, our experiences, and in doing so risk undermining or challenging our gender identities. There often isn’t a malicious intent with this; it may just be ignorance masked as curiosity. But, this doesn’t negate the hurt or distress for a trans or non-binary person to have their lived experience diminished.
Unfortunately, others that challenge trans and non-binary people do have malicious intent. Aside from demanding personal information, those who are anti-trans mock and belittle trans and non-binary people for sharing their discomfort or calling for change.
This happens everywhere, even our beloved liberal Falmouth. In March 2019, then-President of Welfare and Inclusivity Harry Bishop, shared the landmark news that Falmouth University was taking down the obnoxious 7ft sexed signs from The Stannary bathroom. It was a small change, but one that would make the use of the campus a little more accessible for trans and non-binary students.
However, the student reaction, whilst mostly positive, still left a lot to be desired. Both the SU page and other student pages such as Penfession blew up with anti-trans commentary; everything from describing transgender students as ‘snowflakes’ to the use of the t-slur in some more extreme comments. At the time, I was a fresher, and seeing these comments terrified me. Something that should’ve been a celebratory moment for the trans and non-binary student community quickly became an opportunity for the face of transphobia to rear its ugly head. I felt less heard, and less accepted, than I had before when I was using disabled toilets (the only gender neutral ones, still, on campus).
Not every transgender or non-binary person wants to discuss, publicly or otherwise, their gender identity. Often they are forced to in order to justify their choices, emotions and actions, even if it means putting themselves at great personal risk.
Back in September, music artist Cavetown (also known as Robin Skinner) became a victim of ‘cancel culture’ when an old Tumblr post of his, made previous to the beginnings of his career, was uncovered. The post contained the transphobic t-slur, which Skinner had used carelessly. Throughout his career Skinner had chosen to keep his transgender identity private, this onslaught of forced him to make the following statement in a Twitter post:
“I’m transgender, you may not have known that, but I am, so I do have the right to say that uncensored. I don’t like the word, I don’t want to say it ever again, so I won’t, but I don’t have to apologise for saying the word.”
Language politics aside, there should never be any situation where a person has to disclose their gender identity in order to justify their choice in self-description. Coming out publicly as trans or non-binary can damage relations with friends and family, as well as your career prospects. In a society where transphobia is rampant both in the media and in our government, speaking out against injustice can increase it in your personal life tenfold.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t still be championing the voices of trans and non-binary people. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have written this article. It is so important to uplift the voices of those who are marginalised within our society. However, greater consideration to the personal risk that a marginalised person takes when speaking out about their experience should be given. This doesn’t stop with transgender and non-binary people either. When a queer person, or a person or colour, or a disabled person speaks out about their lived experience they put themselves in danger of anything from ridicule to verbal or physical abuse.
At the end of the day, transgender people, non-binary people – we’re just people. We don’t want our truth questioned any more than the next person, and we shouldn’t feel we have to sell our stories to justify our existence.
This article is in our Opinions section. As such the views within are those of the contributor and do not represent an editorial stance.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Falmouth University, the University of Exeter or Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union.