Monday, 30 November 2009

Surreal but predictable; trans people excluded again.

It was almost surreal; at a meeting of the "Cutting Edge Consortium" in the house of Commons on Tuesday night, Andrew Copston, representing the Humanist Society, right at the end of the meeting when there was no opportunity for us to argue back, suggested that it wouldn't matter if there were no transgender comissioners on the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) because other commissioners could just as well do the work of a trans commissioner if they have good enough knowledge of trans issues.

And whaddaya know but the next day the EHRC announces new commissioners, and guess what...? Yup you got it in one, there are no trans commissioners. Guess what II... the other commissioners are not people with any understanding of trans issues.

Predictable as this is likely to sound to transgendered people, it is not something which should go without either comment or protest. This is a deliberate snub to the trans community, make no mistake. It is like saying that we don't count, or that our problems with equal rights do not have to be taken seriously. Despite all its warm and supportive words, when it comes down to it the EHRC is all mouth and no trousers. This is not the first time either, when words have flowed freely but action has been conspicuous by its absence. The Moving Wallpaper affair earlier this year, demonstrated how it is unwilling to take any action on any trans issues. No wonder the Equality Bill is such a big step backwards for transgender people, it will mean that they will legally be able to ignore us in favour of less underpriviledged groups, encompassing larger numbers of people.

So let's call a spade a spade shall we? This is all about numbers. Transgender people in the UK make up such a small proportion of the population that we do not merit the attention of the EHRC. After all race and sex discrimination can potentially affect everyone in the country, whereas transphobic discrimination affects maybe only 1% of the population. We are too small a minority to merit inclusion in the hierarchy of discrimination, the bottom rung is still to be kept out of reach as everyone else pulls up the drawbridge.

Of course there are other reasons for our exclusion; it would not do to shake the cosy worldviews of Daily Mail reading 'normal', Barratt Homes, Mondeo Man with 2.35 chilren... they might start to question other aspects of their lives if the most basic concepts of 'male' and 'female' are suddenly revealed to be not the only options. My goodness, the thought that the lovely, pretty, blonde-haired daughter they assiduously cultivated with pink t-shirts and Barbie dolls might grow up into a MAN! Or worse, a genderqueer butch dyke with attitude and a pair of DMs...

Of course there is hypocrisy by the truckload, and of course trans people are used to that as well, indeed we start to get nervous at its absence such is the regularity with which we have had to deal with double standards being applied to us. One of the biggest voices against the full inclusion of trans people in the Equality Bill came from religious groups. (Incidentally 99.9% of their responses which call for our exclusion did not refer to religious grounds or religious texts in support of their 'arguments' but that is another story.) Leaving asside the obvious question as to why transgender people do not get consulted about issues involving religious freedom this makes manfest one of the most spectacular and monumental instances of hypocrisy and double standards of modern times. This is Hypocrisy of planet sized proportions...

One of the main arguments which the Equalities Office deployed to justify excluding the majority of transgender people from the scope of the bill was that people who are transgender but not transsexual represent a "Lifestyle Choice". The fact that this is clearly complete nonsense is neither here nor there. The same people, including those on the EHRC, argue for religious discrimination to be a protected characteristic in the Equality Bill, so that people cannot be discriminated on the grounds of religious belief. Yet what is religion? One is not born a Muslim, a Catholic or a Protestant, therefore religion is a Lifestyle Choice.

The irony is of course that people who argue that they should not be discriminated against because of a lifestyle choice then turn round and argue that the majority of the transgender community should be unprotected from discrimination because they represent a "Lifestyle Choice".

The reality is, of course, that being transgendered, whether transsexual or not, is something you are born with and nothing to do with any choices you might make. My own research has shown that around 80% of transgender people realise that their gender identity is different before they leave primary school. with only around 3% becoming aware they are trans after their 18th birthday. With a mean average age of realisation at around 7-8 years old, and a modal average age at only 5 years old, the suggestion that any trans person is trans out of a lifestyle choice is quite clearly ridiculous.


  1. I fully agree with all of this. It's worth noting that there are trans-friendly and well informed individuals working lower down in the hierarchy of the EHRC, so we can aim to support them and hope they rise to power in the long term, but most importantly we need to lobby for full inclusion right now. We need to keep the pressure on to make sure that politicians don't reference thw Equality Bill to claim no further equalities legislation is needed.

  2. I would agree we've been frozen out plus there's no blooming way (staying polite) being Tg is a 'lifestyle choice' being at least on a par with Religious beliefs if not actually at the same level as Race as a unalterable facet of You.

  3. There is indeed a 'lifestyle choice' involved in being trans: we get a choice between a demonstrably unhealthy lifestyle -- i.e. staying closeted and beating down our identities with a big ol' stick of denial -- or admitting who we are and living accordingly.

    Anyone using that Choice to say we should be punished -- or denied legal protections -- for failing to choose the path that carries a huge risk of suicide, substance abuse, and other problems, is not merely failing to do good, but is actively doing evil by arguing that we should harm ourselves for their comfort. We should not be oppressed for simply choosing the healthy option instead of the slow death.