Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Progress will always be uneven.

It has been a week of ups and down for trans people. The ups include THAT photo that the awesome Laverne Cox managed to score with Obama at the Whitehouse (or was it THAT photo that the awesome Barack Obama managed to score with Laverne Cox, I don’t know), the positive reception Burce Jenner has had coming out as trans and Ed Miliband saying he would love and support his children unconditionally if they turned out to be trans.

This has to be set against the tragic death of Rachel Bryk, killed by induced suicide after bullying from a troll. This has to be set against a number of suicides of young trans people since before Leelah Alcorn’s tragic death by suicide. Of course Rachel’s death has to be set in a wider context; the suspicion for her death has to be placed on the shoulders of the Gamergate/4Chan haters and bigots.

Of course the suspicion that this is the indirect result of TERF action (especially via the 4Chan group) will also hang over her death, after all most people accept that one of the prime TERF MOs has always been instigating violence, abuse, exclusion and hatred by proxy.

However it is clear that trans people are advancing in terms of our acceptance. I can remember coming out in the 1980s at school in Scandinavia and promptly having to go back in the closet again when I got back to England. I can remember trans people being warned, in the 1990s not to use the tube unless they was confident of passing. I can remember being told, in the noughties, at the primary school where I was teaching that if I came out as trans, I would be sacked. I can remember the nervousness of the staff at the Guardian when I wrote my first (and massively out-of-date, on many levels) article in Comment Is Free in 2008, and how they wanted me to be online to respond below the line when the article was published. I can remember the awful comments below the line, which nowadays would not be allowed.

Then the elation at the great speech by Juno Roche at a teachers union conference, seeing the amazing Paris Lees on Question Time, with that wonderful line about Ed Miliband having “Oak in his penis”. After all that I feel lucky to be able to be myself all the time even joining in the chanting at the Emirates North Bank, is not a problem any more; Arsenal fans respect red-and-white scarves. Today I use the tube to get to work and around London every day, and the bus, and all the crap privatised trains you get everywhere else.

Yet it is not the case for everyone, progress has been patchy. There are still people and places where being identifiably trans is to invite abuse, harassment, exclusion, bullying and violence. It is fitting that Laverne Cox understands how she is in a privileged position; she can talk to the president of the United States while (mostly) black and Hispanic trans women are murdered, and young trans people are driven to suicide. Change will always be patchy, but it is hopeful that, by working to increase trans visibility at the top, this will change attitudes elsewhere. This is why groups like TMW and AAT have been so important, but it is also why groups like GLAAD, GI, many local groups and Stonewall are still much needed, to work at a more grassroots level. There is obviously much still left to do. While the fantastic work of Juno Roche and others has probably made it possible for trans teachers to come out in work, it is still debatable whether an openly trans teacher would get through a job interview with a positive result in most schools, especially primary schools. There are still plenty of trans people living on estates where they are subject to violence, or indeed are effectively prisoners in their own homes.

I know a number of trans women, mostly from working-class backgrounds, who still have to spend most of their lives pretending to be male, because the massive consequences, either at work, in their local community or for their relationships with their families and children. Trans people are still being denied access to their children or being threatened with that, trans people are still being beaten walking home, trans people are still too scared to come out at work because the stakes are so high and losing their job would have consequences for thewir family and dependents.

So while we must celebrate the victories of people like Laverne Cox and others we must remember that there is still a long way to go for many people. In too many parts of the world being trans is a death sentence; remember Fernanda Milan describing how there were no trans women over 35 in Guatemala because they have all been murdered by then. Yet progress is being made and the visibility of people like Laverne Cox. Paris Lees and Bruce Jenner and their intelligent representations of trans people in the media undoubtably helps generate that progress widely. This does not mean that transphobic harm will abate everywhere and for everyone, but it will help, there is still much work to do.

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