The Conservative government has launched a violent attack upon the rights of transgender people, and they must be held to account. We cannot let this pandemic be an opportunity for our government to pass regressive and oppressive legislation unnoticed. We cannot afford to give up the progress we have made in the last two decades. We cannot afford to lose more trans lives.
It was only 2004 – when I was four years old – that trans people were officially recognised by British law as individuals deserving of the right to self-identification, with the passing of the Gender Recognition Act by the then Labour government. It still terrifies and astounds me to think that it was only in my lifetime that my very existence became something my country’s government would recognise. Since then much has changed, largely for the better, but now our government wants to take us back in time; to halt progress and make life for people like me harder than it already is. Boris Johnson’s government, led by Liz Truss as Minister for Women and Equalities, wants to make it more difficult for trans people to have their identity legally recognised, and to increase restrictions on single sex spaces. These changes come as a part of planned reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. Under Theresa May’s government the question of what reforms were needed was put to the public in the form of a consultation. 70 percent of respondents were in favour of positive change, and the government has chosen to ignore them. The message is clear: ours is a government of intolerance.
Not only do these proposed reforms show a complete lack of regard for the humanity of transgender individuals, the move to ramp up protections on single sex spaces substantiates tired transphobic rhetoric about the supposed threat trans people pose to society. Surely anyone can see it is we, the transgender community, who are the vulnerable ones? It is we who are being systematically oppressed and silenced by the government. It is trans voices which are being ignored. Arguments against our right to self-identification perform concern for our welfare, yet if any member of parliament or minister took the time to make themselves acquainted with the people their policy so drastically effects, they would soon learn the extent of the fallacy of this notion.
Trans women are not predators, we do not pose a threat in women’s spaces. Trans people are not making an irreversible decision on impulse. Trans people don’t need to be guided, held back from making a decision that is ‘just too big’, as if we haven’t brilliant minds of our own. This life was never a decision. Why choose systematic oppression and rejection? And it was never impulse. It is ontology. It is who we are. Some people are neither male or female and they are beautiful. Some, like me, are born into a body which society misreads, but I am beautiful too. Because trans people don’t need protecting from themselves, but from transphobes. Society doesn’t need protecting from trans people, trans people need protecting from a society which rejects, rapes, murders, and ignores them. Trans people need protecting from the government.
The situation is already dire for trans people in the UK. Waiting times for treatment are horrendously long; I had to wait 2 years and 9 months without any kind of support before I was seen by a gender clinician whose treatment of me has been consistently neglectful and transphobic. Furthermore, having to ‘prove’ my womanhood to multiple uneducated men before I could receive treatment which should have come years earlier was perhaps the most degrading experience of my life. Then on top of that, having to chase the clinic up for appointments, their negligence leading to problems with my hormones which led to a suicidal meltdown, was not only degrading, but also fundamentally dangerous and dehumanising and demonstrated a complete lack of regard for the value of trans lives. And now I wait for surgery, which will come in two, three, I don’t know how many more, years. It is my greatest cause of pain and the thing that almost killed me; the worst experience of my life. It is ongoing, and until I can have that surgery my life, and my happiness, remain on hold.
When lockdown began I was fearful for my mental health in an uncertain future. What I didn’t count on was the tirade of transphobia that would follow, be it coming from public figures such as J. K. Rowling, or indeed from the government itself. These instances have had an adverse effect on my mental health, and as a privileged, white middle class woman, I write in solidarity with my trans peers of colour, with working class trans people, upon whom the burden has been much greater.
Being trans is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It is still happening to me every single day. It is the source of my deepest insecurities and the cause of my deepest trauma. It is why I have been suicidal, and why I have lost years to depression and anxiety. But that isn’t quite right. Rather, transphobia is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. For a long time it was the trans part of myself I hated, but I have learnt to love the very thing that has made simply existing such a struggle for me, and found the beauty in it, and the strength. No Conservative government can take this away from me. Boris Johnson and Liz Truss want to make it harder for people like me to do the most beautiful thing in the world, they want to stop us from saying who we are, they want to take away our right to our identities; our right to say, “this is me”. They want to take away my voice and tell me what I am. So instead I am writing myself. I am making art in the depths of lockdown to declare to an audience – however small it may be – that I am. I am a woman. I am a trans woman. I feel. I have to humanize myself against a government which would turn me into a statistic to be ignored, an aberration and a site of anxiety barred from polite society. A government which would make me a threat when they are the ones threatening the legality of my very existence.
I will not be silenced. I will not be stopped. I am a woman and no law can take that away from me. It is my ontological truth and no government has the right to overwrite me. My anatomy does not define me and my anatomy is not male. Sex is an irrelevant and degrading categorisation of persons which serves no purpose other than to limit us. The ability of trans people to self-identify may legally be hanging in the balance, but no government can take from us the ability to speak up. So I speak up.
We live in progressive times, but we also live in regressive, reactionary times. The Conservative government is hateful and evil. The Conservative government has shown again and again how it acts aggressively to exclude and erase difference. As the Windrush scandal made all too clear, ours is a government without regard for the lives it destroys. The weight of the emotional damage done by our government in the last decade is enough to sink the country.
The House of Commons is currently running a survey regarding conversion therapy and whether or not the process should be criminalized. The very fact that this is a question which needs asking speaks volumes about just how ignorant and backwards the Tories are. And the cutting edge of the question seems all the sharper when we remember how similar questions were asked about reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, which were then ignored. Whether or not they will actually listen to those who feedback this time, we can only hope. I have no faith that this government will do the moral and democratic thing: to recognise the humanity of those it is supposed to serve.