From Trans Awareness to Trans Acceptance
Published: 13 November 2018 Tags: By James Harris
Between November 12 – 19, individuals and organizations across the country will participate in Transgender Awareness Week to help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces. Here we discuss the importance of trans awareness.
Worldwide, trans rights are either under threat or being violated. Even recently in America a man was charged after holding a gun to the head of a transgender woman while using anti-LGBT slurs, and a leaked proposal to change the definition of a person’s sex essentially denied the existence of trans people. Although, an open letter written in response to this proposal (signed by over 1,600 scientists) condemned the erasure of trans identity as:
“…fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights, and basic dignity.”
Statistics consistently show that trans and other non-cisgender people are significantly more likely to suffer from abuse and less likely to be accepted. As a community, the issues faced by our trans and other non-cisgender friends, colleagues and family members should be at the forefront of the LGBT fight for equality.
So what are these issues?
- Lack of legal recognition: Currently, in the UK, to have your gender legally recognised your choice is limited to either ‘male’ or ‘female’, which excludes those who are non-binary, bi-gender, agender or gender-fluid. The process is unnecessarily complex, potentially traumatising and humiliating, and requires a fee. Help make a change here: https://iamenough.lgbt.foundation/
- Being denied access to gender-appropriate facilities: This may seem like a relatively trivial issue to some, but the fact that trans people requesting the use of toilet facilities matching their gender has caused such controversy, highlights how ignorant and paranoid society remains regarding trans people.
- Media Misrepresentation: Trans and non-cisgender people are still unfairly represented in damaging, toxic ways – e.g. vilified as a threat to society or fetishized in pornography – which contributes towards negative, inaccurate public perception, and therefore hinders recognition of trans people as individuals to be treated with dignity and respect. See previous article here: https://lgbt.foundation/news/the-harm-of-trans-misrepresentation/237
Then there are prejudiced attitudes that encourage discrimination and hinder trans acceptance:
- “Being trans is an illness”: This is simply not true. The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced this year that being trans will no longer be classified as a mental illness. The discrimination, lack of acceptance, vilification and ridicule – the struggle simply to exist whilst being told you can’t or don’t – experienced by the transgender community can lead to mental illness, but this does not make being transgender an illness itself.
- “You cannot be trans and happy”: If a trans person isn’t happy being trans, it’s not because their trans identity is incompatible with their wellbeing; it’s because a prejudiced, ignorant society won’t let them be. If trans people are marginalised, it’s not necessarily through choice, but because rigid, binary gender norms leave no room for them to be themselves in.
- “Male to female transitioning is incomprehensible”: In a patriarchal society, where men occupy more privileged positions and are inaccurately perceived to be superior to women, the idea of someone born male identifying as female can be regarded by those with prejudiced views as shameful and deserving of contempt. Which only goes to show how misguided societal views on gender still are, and how persistent the false notion is that being trans is a choice.
- “Trans people are just confused”: Though some take a while to fully know and accept their non-cisgender identity, it is not a result of being “confused” by increasingly nuanced, open-minded attitudes towards gender; if anything, such inclusive, fluid categorisation encourages clarity and enables belonging. Some people find the truth confusing when it doesn’t fit neatly into boxes, but to those constrained by rigid, narrow-minded perspectives, breaking free of boxes is profoundly liberating.
- “Coming out as trans is just a cry for attention”: Why would trans or non-binary people deliberately increase the risk of being ostracised, abused, ridiculed and rejected, if it wasn’t necessary? Such a notion is absurd, a selfish attempt to undermine the legitimacy of trans issues and avoid caring. To dismiss as a “cry for attention” people’s need to have their struggles and a fundamental aspect of their identity acknowledged, is a callous trivialisation of an extremely critical part of their lives.
- “Young children are questioning their gender identity too early”: Trans acceptance doesn’t turn impressionable young people trans, it merely fosters an environment in which they are free to explore their gender identity as soon as they become aware of it. Certainly, it’s important we don’t encourage children to question their gender unnecessarily, but giving them the opportunity to do so unprompted means they aren’t suppressing it, which would delay self-acceptance and detrimentally impact their development.
Many of these issues have one fundamental thing in common: the inability or unwillingness to accept or acknowledge that a person’s gender is not necessarily determined by their physical sex. But refusing to accept an individual’s identity just because you can’t (or won’t) understand it, is never worth the harm caused by denying them their right to be who they are.
Acceptance is possible without understanding, though understanding does make things easier to accept. If you are cisgender, and struggle to accept trans identity because you don’t understand it, ask yourself what is most true; your body or the deeper awareness that makes you, you. If you were told that your inner self was incompatible with your physical self, and you had to deny who you were inside just to satisfy society’s ignorance, what would you do?
A person’s outward appearance should never define their identity, though it can reflect it; the root can exist without the flower, but the flower cannot exist without the root.
The soul shines out from within, not in from without.
Trans Awareness Week details: https://www.glaad.org/transweek
UK gender laws: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/10/15/6-reasons-why-the-uks-gender-laws-are-failing-transgender-people/
LGBT Foundation help: https://lgbt.foundation/how-we-can-help-you/trans-advocacy