If we want to pursue individual happiness and a fair society, we all need to be allies to those whose voices are diminished beneath the roar of controversy. When I took part in a panel discussion on trans for the Church of England last year, I decided to interview as many transpeeps as I could – so as to represent their voices and not just my own. These were read out and a video shown of UK gender-non binary artist Mark Anthony, in addition to my address, which I have blogged over here.
In order to share perspective and gain insight from those who feel they go unheard, here are my contributors, in their own words.
1. What does it mean to be trans?
DH: Being trans, is just who I am, it basically means that I dont have to pretend to be something I am not any more, forcing myself to hide away.
JP: To be trans means to me that I can just be who/what I want to be. I don’t feel like a different person just in my eyes, an enhanced version of myself.
JM: Being a criminal, hiding, lying, being not what you are, having to be two characters not one. Separated from society, shunned.
MA: In its most basic sense being trans means to not identify as the gender you were assigned at birth based on your body. Ie, how you feel about your gender doesn’t match with the way others see you and try to teach you to be and act.
RR: To be trans is to not identify with the gender you are assigned at birth. This includes people who medically transition (male to female or female to male), but medical intervention is not essential. People who are non-binary, and don’t identify as either gender, also fall under the trans umbrella.
RJ: In simple terms it’s knowing that the gender people thought you were isn’t right for you, but in practice being trans is being brave and choosing to remake yourself to match what you really are, rather than what you are presumed to be.
- How would you define differences (if any) between transgender and transsexual? Is this a useful distinction?
DH: I dont, I’m not hung up on labels but the difference is due to generations more than anything. Most Trans people are just themselves and not sum of their labels.
JP: Transgender is the umbrella term, I do sort of disagree with the wording because in my eyes a crossdresser isn’t the same thing , although for many it does lead to becoming a transsexual. I just feel that it’s unfair to group us when they just dress for example for sex or …. sex while people like me go through daily life how we are. Job interviews, busses , Morrison’s, where they might only have the happy time. Transsexual is the final destination I guess.
JM: Transsexuals are disphoric, they require surgery to make them what they think they are, think limb disphoria here. Trans have a choice and choose to feminise or be masculine.
MA: As far as I know transsexual is just an outdated term for transgender, and it carries the weight of trans people being seen as freakish or mentally ill. In my experience most trans people find the word very insulting. Apart from the associations, it’s just an incorrect way of describing trans people – it’s about gender not sex. Sex is body parts, gender is the way you feel and the way you are socialised to behave.
RR: Transsexual describes someone who has had gender reassignment surgery, although not all people who have had the procedure may identify as transsexual. Many people find this term outdated, but it is important to note that many, notably a lot of the older generation of trans people, identify as transsexual, making it as valid as any other term. Transgender is more of an open ended term, describing people who fall anywhere within the trans umbrella.
RJ: Transsexual implies a person who is trans and who has undergone surgery to change their physical sex. Transgender encompasses trans people who haven’t, can’t, or don’t want to surgically transition, and is more inclusive for non-binary and gender fluid identities for that reason.
- If any, what misconceptions annoy/upset you the most?
DH: That we are all perverts, abominations or some how an affront to humanity.
JP: That we are these sexual beings just gagging always and wanting to dress like tarts . I always cringe when I see trans in media that are overtly sexual. I don’t mind sexy but I like decorum and cheeky rather then full on. I’d love to be known and to show different.
JM: Pre-judging, thinking it’s just sexual.
MA: That trans people are somehow just trying to get special treatment, like the bathroom ‘debates’. This mainly applies to trans women but the media uses a very small number of cases of sexual violence to create a climate of fear and associations of deviancy around trans people, when the absolute vast majority of us just want to pee!
It also upsets me that as a result of the high levels of very negative attention given to trans women, the existence of trans men is often ignored completely. In some ways it’s better to be ignored, however we’re very underrepresented and therefore things that we need specifically are often overlooked. For example, healthcare such as hormone treatments and surgeries is much more advanced, varied and well-tested for trans women.
That being trans is easy/people do it on a whim. I’ve been waiting for two years, with possibly another one to go, to even get a first appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic. That’s before any hormone treatments or surgeries which have both lengthy waiting times and long recoveries. So if I wanted to transition fully it would take me in total the best part of seven years. When you’re on hormones or other treatments there’s little to no support – you can have appointments max once every three months and even phone calls are limited because the clinics are so overwhelmed. GPs are not trained in trans healthcare so a lot of it is trial and error, and they have been known to refuse to treat trans people based on their own prejudices.
RR: Perhaps not a misconception, but the fetishisation of trans people is still a huge problem, as we are still seen as a taboo and some sort of sex object to so many.
RJ: I hate that people think trans people are confused or mentally ill for not fitting neatly into the socially constructed box that is gender. I also get very upset when someone suggests that trans people, particularly nonbinary people, are doing it for attention.
4. When you were growing up did you feel that you wanted to be a different gender or did you always know you were the gender you are now?
DH: Since i was able to articulate this. Which was about the age of 4. DH
JP: I always knew I was different just didn’t know how or what it was full about 4 years ago and then it all just clicked.
JM: Wanting to be a different gender.
MA: I always knew something wasn’t right, and that I felt extremely uncomfortable in my body, but I wasn’t able to fully understand or accept what that meant until I was in University.
RR: Since coming out, my mother told me that as a young child I had told her I felt like a girl inside. Growing up, although I felt different and certainly more feminine than my male peers, growing up in the North East of England, these feelings were somewhat pushed down, perhaps for my safety.
RJ: I have always been in a grey area and been enamoured with the idea of androgyny. I didn’t necessarily want to be a boy, but I really didn’t like being a girl either. If I had known about gender fluidity, nonbinary identities when I was younger I think it would have saved a lot of confusion.
5. What do you want see change or improve in your local community?
DH: More acceptance and tolerance of everyone no matter what religious or trans or race or whatever.
JP: Especially alot of trans seem to be focussed on just trans, I like to mix with all people , if we get along we get along and we can work together, but there’s so much hate and jealously, jealousy is such an ugly colour of lipstick.
JM: Freedom to be myself, dress however, be able to express who I am, not pre judged all the time. Acceptance. Eg in hospital, be who I am not catagorised.
MA: I would like to see changes to assumptions of who or what people are. More asking of pronouns, more respecting of pronouns, more standard use of gender-neutral titles and pronouns. Also more inclusive services that recognise the differing needs of trans people.
RR: Living in Brighton, my community is pretty great and I feel very happy and safe here.
RJ: Gender neutral toilets as standard, a general move towards gender neutral language (e.g. not using ladies and gentlemen etc)
6. What do you want to see change or improve in the wider world?
DH: End of Homelessness, Peace and tolerance, rather than hate.
JP: Understanding and kindness.
JM: Better education. Be able to integrate, we are capable people, just let us be useful as we are. The way we dress – and behave, should be an individuals decision not imposed! Don’t bring genders up separately and throw them back together later in life. Grow up together whoever you are. Less lonely and more productive.
MA: Much the same as the previous question, but also to end the media scapegoating of trans people, the general persecution and oppression of trans people in many places (see the changes happening in the USA where Trump is trying to write trans people out of existence).
RR: The media as a whole needs to change its damaging attitude to trans people. The last few months have been pretty horrific in response to the reformation of the GRA 2004, with even publications like The Guardian posting transphobic nonsense. I would like to see us normalised, just another member of society. So many see us as a threat, which is quite frankly ridiculous.
RJ: Same as in my community, as well as removing gender divisions in clothing and accessories, generally shaking off the misconceptions we have about what defines woman, man, masculine and feminine, and also better education about gender neutral identities and language.
7. Can you share any insightful or funny stories or anecdotes about your experiences?
DH: Being a stand out means that you become a beacon for advice. Not all trans people are as confident or self assured about the way they are and who they want to be. This leads to people to seek those who do stand out for a myriad of reasons but doesn’t always mean that they are the greatest of all people to be ‘leaders’.
RR: I’m not sure this is exactly what you mean, but this film really helped me come to terms with my gender identity.
RJ: As I am not the only member of my family that has come out as trans, my mum has had to learn a lot about pronouns and language in a short amount of time. I’ve started making the family fortunes “not an answer” buzzer noise (“errrk”) whenever she misgenders someone. My boyfriend has picked up on this so now we use it regularly, and out of habit sometimes buzz other people when they misgender someone, even if they have no clue about any of this. It definitely makes people careful not to misgender.
- Can you supply images and/or video that expresses how you think and feel about being transgender? How easy/difficult is it to express?
DH: Pretty sums everything up around transition.
JM: It should be easier with the technology, use it, you can have all of mine! ?
RR: My message is to stay strong, positive and putting good energy into the world. To those who are not in the trans community, know that we exist, that we are valid, we are not a threat, and we have always been here.
RJ: https://youtu.be/JacrjnVP7gI This is an act I perform under my drag king alter ego, Roddy Jodphurs. It summarizes how I feel as a gender fluid person and how harmful and limiting the socially enforced binary can be, but also how unique and liberating it is to be happily, proudly trans. It can be difficult to explain how it feels to be trans, especially non-binary, to cisgender people because it’s like trying to describe a flavour to someone who’s never tasted it.
- Tell me about your message to the trans community and also to those who are’t involved? Is it the same message or different? How?
DH: Be you, dont hide, and dont believe all you read and hear. Your life, your rules and not everyone elses expectations.
JM: Be who you are, we don’t live forever, and that’s everyone, do it now, don’t hold off for later.
MA: To the trans community I have a message of solidarity and respect. We’ve all struggled to make it this far (a quick look at the statistics on suicide in young trans people shows quite how much of an achievement it is) and things happening in the world are making it seem like things are going backwards, and what we’ve fought for might actually be taken away.
To cis people my message is a plea to educate themselves and to be allies. Trans people aren’t rare but we are a minority, and unfortunately our voices aren’t enough – we need cis people to speak up and fight for us. All of our systems and institutions are based on the assumption that everyone is cis and straight and in order for that to change, the people in charge of the systems and who benefit from them need to choose to let other people in.
RJ: My message to everyone is that we see everything as a set of opposites because it helps us make sense of the world. On and off, night and day, men and women. Sometimes people are on one side but they should really be on the other – they are the moon you see in the daytime, the standby light. But this idea of everything being one or the other is something we made up, at the cost of ignoring the beautiful figures who don’t fit in those boxes. Some of us are dawn and dusk. If we really want to make the world a better place, we have to stop blinkering ourselves and others and see what is outside those boxes.
10. Anything you would like to add?
JM: Only that it is stereotypical, and people’s behaviour is predictable depending on how you present yourself, don’t assume. It’s all forgivable given the ‘brain washing’ we receive from birth.
I would like to think everyone who got involved for their time and input. Please do share this and encourage more to take part and add to the bank of answers or suggest more questions too! Let’s ensure that nothing is ever lost in translation! It is all our responsibility, regardless of gender, politics or gender-politics…