Talking trans rights and reform

“It is important to recognize that trusting people to determine for themselves which identity categories feel the most authentic or natural is a simple matter of respecting their human dignity and rightful autonomy.” (Marinucci, 2016)

When one of the UK’s best-known contemporary authors’ tweets openly anti-trans sentiments, it’s hard to miss the new narrative sweeping across the UK that trans women – aren’t women at all. It’s not appropriate to share J.K Rowling’s thoughts here (although we would urge you to read the charity Mermaids‘s response to her tweets). Her divisive words have hurt a group of marginalised women, and the sentiment to speak on behalf of a group rather than “passing the mic” has ensured subjugated voices have been eroded from the conversations around their own identities and bodies for hundreds of years.

There has been a dramatic increase in transphobic ideology throughout the UK in the past twelve months and trans people have, and remain to be, subjugated, silenced and worse, violently attacked and even killed (the past 12 months has seen a staggering 37% increase of recorded hate crimes against trans individuals in the UK). This is undoubtedly due to the Scottish Government proposing a reformation of the Gender Recognition Act, whilst the UK government announced it would not make planned changes to its current policies – which would have ensured transgender people would be able to self-identify without going through the current complex process which can take more than five years to complete.

Responses to Boris Johnson’s plan to halt reforms to the Gender Recognition Act from charities such as Gendered Intelligence, Stonewall Scotland and LGBT Youth Scotland all articulate the physical, emotional and mental implications this will have for trans people. In light of the increasing transphobic rhetoric within the UK and the stalling of the Gender Recognition Act I wanted to ensure that at Stellar Quines we were “passing the mic” to the trans community. Here, we chatted to Ivy, a recent intern at Stellar Quines, about her experiences as a trans woman and how the conversations around the Gender Recognition Act impact her directly:

Having recently been assessed under the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Protocol for Adults (CEL 26, 2012) within the last few weeks, this process has been something I have been both excited and nervous about since applying almost three years ago.

I can’t deny that I wasn’t worried about everything. I was assessed by two doctors over a video call, in two separate initial appointments, where I was asked not only about my past but also about how I present myself to the world today. In the back of my head, I did worry. What would happen if I did not qualify? How can someone who doesn’t know me understand my own personal situation or the effect it has on my day to day life? Everyone’s experience is different after all. Fortunately, I was deemed to qualify under GRA and am in the process of working with the GCI to help feel more comfortable in my own skin. Though while I had a positive experience, I am fully aware there are many examples where people have been denied. That is not acceptable.

What would you like to see change for trans women within the UK right now?

I mean to address the elephant in the room, what I would like to see change in the UK is simple; that EVERYONE on the gender spectrum (whether Trans men and woman, people who identify as gender fluid and non-binary, and people who are CIS-Gender) are accepted for who they are as a person, rather than focusing on another person’s genitals. This should mean they are shown dignity in their personal life and their work life. That they don’t get deliberately misgendered, dead-named or face discriminatory behaviour from colleagues or the general public because of who they are. This should be a standard for everyone.

Education would be important to note too. There is certainly a degree of ignorance, misinformation and asinine comparison that are truly baffling out there and that needs to be tackled. For instance, I am proud to be a Trans Woman and I don’t think it is being a “liberal loony lefty” or a “snowflake” to be offended when someone says, “I am going to identify as a helicopter”. Comments like these belittle the genuine hurt, confusion and struggle that many people feel on a day to day basis. We should be showing support, rather than making stupid, petty “jokes” that blatantly undermine another person.

Can you tell me a little about what “trans-exclusionary radical feminism” means to you?

It makes me sad, to be honest with you. After all, by denying one group of people in a community you claim to support and defend, you are showing hypocrisy and contempt for the movement as a whole; whether that be through Trans-exclusionary radical feminists or those who deny that bisexual and transgender members of the LGBTQ+ community. We see the continued inequalities in gender pay gaps, examples of ageism and sexism used on TV, casual and blatant sexism, racism, homophobia in our governments and media. Yet rather than unite together to tackle these issues, we choose to attack members of the community for what? That they are different from you? Transphobia suggests fear and distrust of Trans people, but how many actually know members of the Trans community personally?

Personally, I think it is a real shame because as long as there is a feeling of division in the world, we will never truly have respect and equality for all.

J.K.Rowling represents one of a growing group here in the UK –“trans exclusionary radical feminists”, or TERFs for short. The LGB Alliance has emerged as a leading spokes group for TERF ideologies within the UK. Their website states … biological sex is observed at birth and not assigned… current gender ideologies are pseudo-scientific and present a threat to people…” – but there’s something fundamentally flawed here, something people who have experienced it will be able to identify: it is founded on a concept of oppositional sexism.

“Oppositional sexists attempt to punish or dismiss those of us who fall outside of gender or sexual norms because our existence threatens the idea that women and men are “opposite” sexes…. Our natural inclinations to be attracted to the same sex, to identify as the other sex, and/or to express ourselves in ways typically associated with the other sex blur boundaries required to maintain the male-centred gender hierarchy that exists in our culture today.” (Serrano, 2017)

Homophobia, misogyny and sexism, transphobia and even racism are all founded on the idea that there are correct binaries of existing. The incredible performance artist Travis Alabanza highlighted how the rise of TERF rhetoric is inter-connected with racism:

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the midst of a literal uprising of collective Black struggle, an anti-trans rhetoric that is rooted in white women’s ability to weaponize against other marginalised communities sees a surge. Clever recentring. This is also white supremacy”.

Whilst trans-activists see feminism as sitting at the core of their activities then why can some feminists not see trans-activism as complementary and intertwined with their endeavours?

As an art form, I personally believe theatre has the potential to platform and support those most eroded and silenced voices, ensuring experiences of even the most marginalised and discriminated communities can be shared, explored and celebrated. At this moment in time, when the UK sits on the precipice of being able to ensure trans people secure some form of bodily autonomy in self-identity through necessary reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, it is more important than ever for theatre to ensure it is supporting the lived experiences of trans people to guarantee their experiences and voices aren’t eroded. In a recent open letter to The Stage, signed by dozens of creatives, artists urged theatres to not only address the “severe lack of transgender roles”, but highlighted that “The casting of cisgender people, often cis men as trans women, is an insensitive choice that, even without intention to, gives further credit to harmful allegations, and reinforces the ideology that trans women are simply “men in dresses”. If we cannot see this conservative reactionism challenged in theatre and dramatic art through the casting of trans performers as trans characters, then we are unlikely to see a broader change in attitudes towards trans and GNC individuals elsewhere”.

After the incredible scenes from the recent Black Trans Lives Matter marches, which saw thousands of Americans fill the streets donned in white to protect the lives of the black trans community, it is impossible to not reflect on how one group of marginalised voices supports another. Cis-women have been marginalised for centuries under the patriarchy, but if we do not recognise the ways in which the patriarchy is mutable and enacts it’s powers in different ways on different groups and how, at this specific moment in time, it is dehumanising, discriminating against and delegitimising trans lives, resulting in emotional, mental and physical violence, then I don’t believe we are doing justice to ourselves as feminists. The stalling to UK wide Gender Recognition reform will only further perpetuate transphobia, and will have palpable impacts for the trans community.

After all:

“It’s all part of the same sexist, gender-rigid, patriarchal system that we are trying to resist.” (Marinucci, 2016)

Rosie is Stellar Quines’s Creative Learning Associate and is studying for a PhD in Contemporary Collaborative Practices