A couple of weeks ago I was looking for tour tickets for one of my favourite bands, Against Me!, and I came across a story about how the lead singer (who I had respected for years, ever since I first heard the band 10+ years ago) was about to begin living his life as female. Tom Gabel would now be known as Lara Jane Grace (see this link: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-secret-life-of-transgender-rocker-tom-gabel-20120531 ) In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine she talked about years of anxiety as she came to terms with having gender dysmorphia (an intense disconnect with his birth gender) and how she was inspired by a trangendered fan’s letter describing how the following lyrics gave her the courage to live as a woman:
‘And in the journal you kept by the side of your bed… Confessing childhood secrets of dressing up in women’s clothes / Compulsions you never knew the reasons to’
Lara Jane Grace, Against Me! Vocalist
Suddenly I realised that while I have spent years working in the LGBT community, in many ways a bubble of trans acceptance (there are exceptions), for those outside this environment being trans is often viewed as something strange, inappropriate and wrong. The more I thought the more I got upset thinking about the treatment that people like Lara Jane Grace obviously suffer and the more my respect grew for one of my biggest idols.
Trans people often endure a huge amount of discrimination – from being taunted and called ‘tranny’ in the street to suffering physical abuse. A recent case where a transsexual prostitute was murdered in London is a sobering reminder of the lack of acceptance of being trans in the UK today, even in spite of huge leaps forward in LGB equality and treatment in recent years. The sad thing is that if you said to a child that there are men, women and people who don’t fit into these categories who are trans they would most likely accept what you’re saying. Unfortunately many adults aren’t nearly as open to accepting the possibility that there exist people for whom the categories of men and women might not make so much sense, or for who their birth gender causes them so much pain.
Part of the problem comes from a lack of understanding or ignorance about the trans community and the terms used by those who identity as trans. One myth worth debunking is that being trans is extremely rare. Some studies have estimated the prevalence of those who are trans to be about 1% of the population, others have argued that the number of those who may be described as trans is much higher than those who are deaf, blind or those that have relatively common illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis (http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/TSprevalence.html), all of which are much more socially visible and are much more likely to result in public empathy. Another problem is confusion about some of the key terms used by those who are trans and within the LGBT community and I want to help clarify some of these. Trans is an umbrella term used to describe a wide spectrum of people who cross gender categories or don’t identify with traditional gender categories. Some common categories that are often included under the trans umbrella:
Bi-gendered – someone who identifies as male and female.
Cross-dresser/transvestite – refers to people who dress, either occasionally or more regularly, in clothes associated with the opposite gender, as defined by socially accepted norms.
FTM – trans man – assigned female gender but lives as a man.
Genderqueer – outside binary system or whose gender is fluid.
Gender Dysphoria is distress, unhappiness and discomfort experienced by someone about their physical body not fully matching their gender identity.
Intersex: This is a term used to describe people born with external genitals, internal reproductive systems or chromosomes that are in-between what is considered clearly male or female
MTF – trans woman – assigned male gender at birth but lives as a female.
Transgender – refers to a whole range of people who find their gender identity or gender expression differs in some way from the gender assumptions made by others about them when they were born.
Transsexual – This is a term used to describe people who consistently self-identify as the opposite gender from the gender they were labelled at birth based on their physical body
Luckily there has been an increase in trans groups in the UK helping to bring about more awareness of trans issues and provide support for those from the trans community and their families (For trans groups in the UK see the following website: http://www.spectrumlondon.org.uk/uktrans.htm). Here at GMI we provide free sexual health services to gay, bi or trans individuals who are having unprotected sex and are concerned about the risks they are taking. We offer counselling, mentoring and sexual health advice to those that do and do not identify as trans in London http://www.gmipartnership.org.uk/ and seek to provide a space where issues related to gender, sexuality and sex can be explored safely.
How have you been affected by transphobia? What advice would you give to trans people reading the blog? What more can be done to reduce discrimination to those that identify as trans?