Being Transgender in the UK, Transphobia and How to be Inclusive
By George Hughes (they/them): With roughly 200,000 – 500,000 trans people living in the UK (Government Equalities Office, 2018), and more celebrities coming out as gender diverse, trans people have become a popular subject for discussion. While many transgender people are celebrated around the world, discrimination and transphobia is still being faced daily with devastating consequences. This blog is about being transgender in the UK, what we mean by transphobia, and what we can do to be inclusive of all members of the community.
First of all, what is meant by the term transgender?
The word transgender is a term which describes people whose gender identity is not aligned with the sex they are assigned at birth.
What is gender identity?
A person’s gender identity is their personal and internal sense of who they are regardless of their hormones, internal and external sex organs, and chromosomes. Gender is no longer regarded as a binary model wherein people have to identify as either man or woman; it is instead a spectrum in which a person is able to freely identify themselves as one of over 60 different gender identities. (Abrams and Ferguson, 2022)
What is transphobia?
In simple terms, transphobia is negative feelings, attitudes or actions against people who identify as transgender. It also covers those who identify as nonbinary, transsexual or androgyne. Transphobia can be seen in many different forms and can range from inappropriate language, prejudice-related bullying, to full-blown violent attacks.
The transgender community have become a topic more frequently discussed by the British tabloids. Panic and prejudice have been propagated by the press and gender critics. Research carried out by Forbes (2021) has claimed that 375 transgender people were murdered in 2021 – twenty five more than the year before. According to records, this is the ‘deadliest year of violence against gender diverse people since records began.’
In August 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report which showed the public’s attitudes to trans people. From the data, it is clear that many people do show a positive attitude. When asked to choose words to describe their feelings towards trans people, many chose words such as ‘respect’ and ‘admire’. However, there is still a percentage who selected ‘pity’, ‘fear’, ‘disgust’ and ‘resentment.’
So why is there a growing level of fear-mongering and intolerance?
Shon Faye (2021) states, “By and large, the transgender issue is seen as a ‘toxic debate’, a ‘difficult topic’ chewed over (usually by people who are not trans themselves) on television shows, in newspaper opinion pieces and in university philosophy departments. Actual trans people are rarely to be seen.” As a trans person, it is hurtful to have my existence debated by people without any lived experience. How often do we see ourselves reflected in the media, and not being spoken about by a cisgender person?
As someone who has recently come out as trans, I am getting used to the daily microaggressions and comments about people’s ‘transness’. People have a lot of questions! The most common questions are “When you are having surgery or taking hormones?” as that is what people assume is everyone’s next step. It is not enough that we exist, we have to exist in a way that everyone expects us to.
What is it like being trans in the UK?
While there is lots of support, it is also incredibly difficult. In order to even be diagnosed with ‘gender dysphoria’ (the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics) and start medically transitioning, you have to be assessed by two psychologists with expertise in the area of gender development. These can be in excess of £1000 and that is just to get a piece of paper with your ‘diagnosis’ on. If you were to go through the NHS, wait times for the first appointment alone are a minimum of eighteen months – and that is if you are fortunate. Once you have your referral, you are faced with more waiting to see a specialist in that area. Even privately, waiting lists for hormone replacement therapy are a year long. So, while some of us will be going through hormone therapy or surgery, each time we are asked, it reminds us of the long waiting list ahead and the months to follow where we still don’t feel at home in the body we are in.
How can people help?
One way, is to avoid gendered language
Reflect on the language you are using. Using gendered language such as ‘boys and girls,’ ‘lads’ and ‘ladies and gentlemen’ can be alienating for those who identify as gender non-conforming and gender diverse. Being referred to as ‘miss’, ‘ladies’, or ‘madam’ makes me feel uncomfortable every single time.
To avoid this, use vocabulary such as:
These terms are more inclusive and do not focus on someone’s gender or gender identity.
Use chosen names and correct pronouns
A person’s chosen name and pronouns are an important part of their identity. If someone has asked you to use these, ensure you are doing so in order to respect the person’s gender identity, and to ensure that they feel included and valued. Chances are, someone has spent a lot of time thinking about their name, so please use it!
If you’re not sure of someone’s pronouns, ask! I have always really appreciated it when someone has asked me what my pronouns are. It immediately puts me at ease. If you are struggling to remember, have a go at saying their names and chosen pronouns aloud.
Sam is a trans man, he is using he/him pronouns.
Jamie identifies as non-binary. They use they/them pronouns.
What is a deadname?
A deadname is the name transgender people may use to refer to the name they were given at birth. Some people may refer to it as their birth name. You should not ask what their deadname or birth name is, unless it is for legal or financial reasons. If someone wants to share this with you, they will. If you know someone’s birth name, don’t use it. Use the name that the individual asks you to use.
What if I call the person their birth name or use the wrong pronouns?
People make mistakes all the time. It’s okay! If you happen to do this, apologise and move on. If someone corrects you, say ‘thank you’ and move on. It may take a while to remember if you have known the person a while. The most important thing is to show that you are trying.
What if I’m talking about someone before they transitioned?
Always refer to the person using their chosen name and pronouns unless they tell you otherwise. It is respectful to only use what the person is happy with.
And finally, if there is a question that can be answered by Google, search for it!
I started out thinking I had to be everyone’s guidebook to being transgender. I misplaced nosiness for support and said that I was happy to answer any questions at any time. I have since realised that it is not my duty to educate others; that is something that has to come from them. While I am more than happy to have conversations on being transgender, rights, discrimination and equality, I am not here to help people understand what being transgender means. It is tiring.
If I was to use a metaphor to describe being trans, it would be this:
Being trans is like floating around in a rubber ring in the ocean. You can see everyone else on their islands happily being themselves and being free. No matter how hard you paddle, you can’t get there. You’ve never visited and you don’t know how to. People keep telling you to visit, but you still don’t know how. Accepting you are trans allows you to start building a bridge from your rubber ring to the island. With each step you take to becoming yourself, another part of the bridge is added, until it is finally completed. When people call now, you can then cross the bridge and live on that island. It is then that you feel like you’re home.
EqualiTeach has a resource for schools on how to embed LGBT+ equality and tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools. You can download it free of charge here: Download Free to Be
EqualiTeach can also deliver staff training on trans inclusion. Get in touch to discuss how we can support you: firstname.lastname@example.org