The following blog has been written by your Equality Rep (Open Place), J Smith.
Breaking the Cis-System- Trans Day of Visibility!
Why do we need Trans Day of Visibility?
In the LGBTQIA* calendar there are currently only two internationally recognised days focused around promoting Trans awareness. Originally there was only Trans Day of Remembrance, however, this focused more around commemorating and mourning transgender victims of hate crime and so did not provide the opportunity to celebrate both the gender diversity and intersectionality of our trans community. Trans day of visibility provides a chance to show the world that we do exist and that trans issues aren’t merely focused around gender neutral toilets and transitioning, but go beyond in looking at estrangement, intersectionality, health care, mental health, housing, legal recognition of non binary people, faith, political representation and also working to ensure that no trans person including trans people of colour are not marginalised, but have a voice. The fact that we are part of LGBT does not mean all trans people identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual as transgender in itself is an umbrella term of an entire spectrum of non-binary gender identities and also to emphasise a person can identify as trans and be heterosexual as well.
How can you have your say?
Currently we’re conducting an online survey to give all LGBTQIA* students studying at Northumbria the chance to feed back on what more we could be doing to better support and represent you. Your personal details and contact information will remain confidential with information gathered in this survey being presented in an anonymous report.
Survey Link can be found here.
How to be a Trans Ally 101
- Accept when you’ve been called out as making a tranphobic or upsetting remark to a trans person. It does not mean you are a bad person as even trans people can be unintentionally transphobic without even realising. All that matters is that you apologise and simply learn from your mistake. The worst thing is to argue or explain to a trans person how you’re not being tranphobic as firstly it just means you focusing on yourself and secondly as someone who doesn’t identify as trans, how do you know exactly what you’ve done isn’t upsetting? It’s same if a person who didn’t identify as bi was trying to explain what Biphobia was to a bisexual person.
- Always use gender-neutral pronouns as your default for anyone new you might meet. It might sound a bit usual especially if it’s the first time you’ve heard “they” being used to describe someone’s gender pronouns. But to someone who does identify outside of the binary it provides a wonderful feeling of their existence being validated and being accepted instead of simply being put into the gender binary from their name or how they look. If the person indicates clearly their preferred pronouns then just refer to them by how they choose to identify.
- Never assume anyone’s gender by how they look. They could look incredibly feminine but that does not instantly mean they will use female pronouns. We need to move away from so called “gender looks”, as there isn’t a set look for how gender neutral people dress, lesbians dress or trans people dress.
- Listen to what trans and non-binary people have to say and don’t talk over them!
- Do not assume that every trans and non-binary person will happily explain to you about their gender identity or how it differs from their assigned gender. It can be very exhausting and draining in having to constantly validate and justify our existence as we identify and not how the state has assigned us. If you are interested in learning more, there are tons of online media resources including but not limited to:
- The best opportunity to ask questions is during events focused around developing trans visibility and awareness as the main purpose of these is to provide a platform for wider discussion. Obviously if you have friends who identifies as trans or non binary they might be willing to discuss these kind of topics, but that is different to asking someone in the first 5 minutes you meet them what their gender identity is followed by completely in appropriate or very personal follow up questions afterwards.
- It is not enough to add a T or to say you’re trans and non-binary inclusive. Acton’s speak louder than words and so it’s working to ensure if you are in an LGBT+ groups or organisation that you actively push for them to work in engaging, supporting and representing trans and non binary members. This includes ensuring there is representation for trans and non-binary people and that this is intersectional in also reaching out to trans and non-binary people of colour and faith as well.
Trans People of Colour
Even within the trans community when we talk about trans visibility this is usually reflected by white trans bodied people and very rarely by trans people of colour who are still marginalised both within our LGBTQIA* community and wider society. From research conducted by Trans Students Educational Research, trans people of colour, particularly trans women of colour are 6 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police in contrast to a white cisgender person.
We need to stop tokenising trans people of colour and actively support them including in no longer simply being bystanders, but to actively support their campaigns and work to make sure their voices are being heard instead of trying to talk over them or feel offended when we hear “Black Lives Matter” in contrast to “All Lives Matter”. From the amazing panel discussion we had at NUS LGBT+ Conference on how to be an ally to LGBT+ people of colour, one thing that was clearly expressed by the panel was no appropriating the Black Lives Matter campaign in changing it to Trans Lives Matter. We as trans activists should create our own, whilst recognising and supporting trans people of colour who do campaign with Black Lives Matter. In making sure we stand in solidarity with them and other black activists in their fight against oppression, racism, xenophobia and intolerance.
We also need to work to ensure trans people of colour are better represented especially within the media, which still white washes the LGBTQIA* community even when addressing trans issues. Caitlyn Jenner, despite my admiration for her choosing to come public on how she identifies (which should never be criticised regardless of who the person might be). The main sticking point is she is not the leader of the trans movement in the US, especially with her misguided views on the Republican party especially Ted Cruz as seeking to promote the rights of trans and non binary individuals in the US. Personally I have no idea exactly where on earth she got that from, but I might be mistaken in the Republican party could see itself as promoting LGBT rights in their own way, similar to how Sarah Palin’s foreign policy with Russia related to Alaska’s proximity in keeping a watchful eye over Putin. The impact of this is it undervalues the diversity of trans voices especially trans women of colour, including Janet Mock, Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald who are inspirations for the tireless work they’ve done in advocating for trans rights, but also increasing the life chances of trans people. Consequently this shows where we do have a platform that provides an opportunity for our views to be listened to we need to use it and to use our privilege to provide the chance for others to have their voices heard.
Finally and potentially the most difficult is as white trans, non binary and gender queer people we still need to accept that we have privilege over queer, trans and non binary people of colour who’s issues need to be included in our platform for liberation including that we move beyond discussing issues around transitioning and gender neutral toilets, but also looking at issues of housing, mental health, incarceration in order to ensure we are not marginalising anyone within our own community, especially trans women of colour.
Recognising Sex Workers
We need to make sure we are celebrating the entire trans community including trans; non-binary and gender queer sex workers. But also to highlight that we should not be criminalising the purchase of sex, which is currently being pushed for by the Conservative MP Fiona Bruce. Bruce’s attitude towards adopting a Nordic style model whereby it seeks to criminalise the client and positions the sex worker as the victim is both undermining and devaluing to those in the sex industry who do enjoy their jobs. As research conducted by the University of Leeds (2015) found that out of 240 sex workers who were surveyed 66% described their work as fun and 50% of them emphasised they found it empowering. The reason why I feel this needs to be mentioned is the approach taken by Bruce goes in the opposite way in not recognising the diversity of our sex industry as being represented by not just women, but also men, transgender and non binary individuals with its own intersectional organisations such as UK Network of Sex Work Projects and English Collective of Prostitutes.
If we contrast the impact criminalisation of sex work has had in the US. Sex workers lives have arguably been put into greater danger by through lack of legal protections. This point has been emphasised by the BGD, which is a reader funded non-profit project focused around amplifying the voices of queer and trans people of colour. The reason for US criminalisation of the purchase of sex is similar to Bruce’s in the belief that stricter laws will help prevent violence and exploitation of sex workers, but as a result pushes them further underground making them less safe. Trans people, particularly trans women of colour are disproportionately effected by this, including being more likely to be the victims of physical violence by the police, particularly as they are having to deal with added discrimination of transphobia and racism. Instead we need to be going the opposite direction in decriminalising the sex industry and providing proper protection and support within the law that recognises the diversity, but also actively listens and represents the interest of sex workers rather than trying to speak for them or portray them as being sexually exploited without even conferring with them or looking at the academic evidence.
I like you, but does them mean I’m gay?
For anyone who hasn’t read Janet Mock link (http://janetmock.com/2013/09/12/men-who-date-attracted-to-trans-women-stigma/) of how society shames men who date trans women, I would strongly encourage you to do so. As she sets out rather eloquently the huge stigma still seen when a man dates a trans women. This is best seen in TV Sitcom “Boy Meets Girl”, which although puts of funny and warm spin has deeper undertones of the over fetishisation of trans people and that people feeling they need to justify their heterosexuality because they’re dating someone who was assigned as being a man at birth. This reflects just the length we need to go in moving away from this kind of thinking including reinforcing the point that a persons past should never overshadow their future including the here and now of how they identify.
When talking about over fetishisation there is a huge difference in liking someone who happens to be trans and then seeking out to have sex with a trans bodied individual. Trans people are not objects and we shouldn’t be treated as curiosities, but as human beings. Over fetishisation is wrong and harmful not because of the persons attraction to the trans individual, but their attitudes in how they treat them including ignoring their own personal concerns and devaluing them as a human beings.
The Invisible Minority- Legal Recognition of Non Binary People
When speaking about non binary it’s good to provide a clear understanding and to emphaise that there aren’t multiple layers or levels. But merely different ways of recognising and representing gender identities outside of the binary (male and female). The reason why I emphaise this is that non binary is a gender identity, that can fit under the trans or transgender umbrella in the individuals gender identity does not match how they were assigned at birth. But non binary as well as gender queer can also be used an umbrella term for gender identities such as agender, bigender, trigender, polygender, pangender, neutrois, gender null, gender void, gender non conforming, demigendered to name a few. A person who identifies as non binary may or may not also identify as trans, there is no clear black and white separation of which non binary gender identities would fall under the trans umbrella. It depends more on the individual in how they identify instead of being told if you’re gender A therefore you fall under the trans umbrella, but not if you identify as gender B or C.
For some gender is completely meaningless as regardless of their anatomy or how they were assigned at birth their gender identity is void or non-existent. This does not instantly mean they go for wearing dull grey clothing. From my own experience it just means I don’t choose to genderise myself into looking masculine or feminine as these are meaningless terms to me, so I dress as I want.
The point to emphaise is that people who don’t identify into the binary, especially gender fluid or gender flux, (which reflects either the persons intensity of their gender or the gender they’re feeling fluctuates and changes) have to constantly battle huge misconceptions of one day they will look like a man and then the next as a women. This might be true for people who identify either as gender fluid or bi gender in they change their outward appearance to match how they currently identify. However, the point is not everyone does this and this does not mean they are any less of a gender fluid or bigender person. It just means that they choose to reflect their gender identity in their own unique and individual way. Another point to emphaise is that gender is not simply male, female and “other” or “third gender”. If you see it as that then you are missing off 15+ genders from your understanding of just how wide the gender spectrum really is!
In 2014, a study was carried out by Nathan Titman, editor of Practical Androgyny, which found that approximately 0.4% (over 250,000 people) of the United Kingdoms population identify as non binary. Roughly this would be about 1 in every 250 people. Titman, hypothesised this would be a lot higher if more options we’re given in regards to national census offering multiple choices for gender identities. The importance of this is currently in the UK non binary gender identities are not legally recognised.
This includes within the Equalities Act 2010, which provides protected characteristics such as in relation sexual orientation or disability in order to ensure people who either fall or identify into the act are protected from discrimination with the UK. After emailing the Women and Equalities committee in regards to discussing the lack of protection Intersex bodied people also face, they messaged back indicating as part of their recommendations to the government was “that the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” in the Equality Act is outdated and should be replaced with “gender identity” so that it is clearer that protection is afforded to anyone who might experience discrimination because of their gender identity (Para’s 107 to 109)”. The importance of this is significant as in a recent study done by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2012) indicated only 31% of non binary people confidentially identify as trans, meaning more than 65% are not protected under the Equalities Act from discrimination. Another study focused around non binary recognition had 118 respondents. 88 Respondents (74.6%) indicated they had not applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) because non binary was not legally recognised, whilst 98 (83%) indicated they would apply if non binary identities we’re legally recognised. Going to back to the approximate of the UK’s non binary population that would mean over 200,000 people would apply for gender recognition certificates if their non binary gender identities were legally recognised. To those who haven’t come across gender recognition certificates it provides the opportunity for a person to have their gender identity legally recognised if approved by the Gender Recognition Panel and within the outline of the Gender Recognition Act (2004). Currently the Gender Recognition Act only recognises to legal genders male and female within the UK.
The Open Society Foundation has provided an overview of the direction we should be moving in towards greater recognition of the diversity of gender identity in being more than just male and female or male, female and “other”. Our gender identities are just as equally valid as male or female and we shouldn’t be squeezed into one box for everything that isn’t male or female. As both of these are social constructs, which undermine just how wide the gender spectrum is. We also need to move in providing more options on surveys with regards to gender identity including options such as trans, non binary, gender queer and that gender identity should be based on how the person identities rather than needing validation or legal recognition from other people. This also needs to extent towards recognising intersex bodied people who both identify as non binary but also into the binary in making sure they’re rights are legally being recognised as respected within UK law.
Why supporting Trans Youth matters!
Provided by Trans Pulse (http://transpulseproject.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Impacts-of-Strong-Parental-Support-for-Trans-Youth-vFINAL.pdf) this survey highlights the substantial and positive impact parents can have when supporting their trans youths.
Promoting greater Trans inclusivity in Northumbria
Currently there a range of projects and campaigns focused around developing Trans and Non Binary awareness including:
- Reviewing of our Trans inclusive policy. This is currently being lead by Lily-Rose Lenton our Lay student councillor and former Trans rep for Northumbria LGBT* society and seeks to update our Trans policy in 2016 standard that reflects both the intersectionality but also diversity of the Trans community including aiming to include Intersex Bodied Students for the first time as well.
- After giving the current democratic review the opportunity to take its course, campaign to create a separate Gender Diversity rep to sit on Student Exec along side our LGBT+ rep and to represent all of our trans, non-binary and gender queer students in our university.
- Working towards organising a joint Trans awareness campaign with Newcastle LGBT+ Campaign, which will be focused around promoting trans and non-binary awareness including queer, trans people of colour and faith and providing more support on how people can become Trans allies.
- As Trans, Intersex, Non Binary and Star rep (TIN*) for Northumbria LGBT* society I aim to advocate for a referendum in giving trans, intersex and non binary members the chance to vote on whether the role should be split into 3 separate positions or stay together. This is focused promoting more gender diversity on committee, but also helping to raise greater awareness around non-binary.
- Development of gender inclusive training for lecturers and tutors in making them awareness of gender-neutral pronouns and how they can promote more inclusive learning spaces to students.
- We’re also working to set up an open meeting with our NUS delegates to give students the chance to discuss motions at conference, including advocating why our delegates should vote in favour of the motion to create a full time NUS Trans Officer.
- Working to ensure we support Pride including Alt Pride, Trans Pride and to work in addressing the issues around Trans inclusivity for Northern Pride. This is to ensure that trans, non-binary and gender queer students feel their voices are being heard in regards to this.
If you would be interested in getting involved with any of the campaigns or have any ideas or suggestions of what more we could be doing please feel free to get in contact either via:
B0red of b1nary. Nonbinary Gender Recognition Survey Results. Available at: http://blog.kat.mxandry.net/post/106815085241/nonbinary-gender-recognition-survey-results
Cange, R. (2015) 5 Ways White Transgender People Have Privilege Over Transgender People Of Color. Available at: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2015/07/5-ways-white-transgender-people-have-privilege-over-transgender-people-of-color/
Connelly (2016) Comment: Criminalising sex workers’ customers just puts them in greater danger. Available at: http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2016/02/03/comment-criminalising-sex-workers-customers-just-puts-them-i
Darling, TS. (2015) Want To Be An Ally To Sex Workers? Here’s What You Need to Understand to Help Keep Us Safe. Available at: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2015/12/want-to-be-an-ally-to-sex-workers-heres-what-you-need-to-understand-to-help-keep-us-safe/
Gires. Gender Recognition Act 2004. Available at: http://www.gires.org.uk/law-archive/gra-2004
Glen, F. Hurrell, K. (2012) Technical Note: Measuring Gender Identity. Available at: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/documents/technical_note_final.pdf
Grant, J., Mottet, L and Tanis, J. (2011) Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Available at: http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf
Milloy, C. (2014) Beware the Chasers: “Admirers” Who Harass Trans People. Available at: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/10/02/trans_chasers_exploitive_admirers_who_harass_trans_people.html
Mock, J. (2013) How Society Shames Men Dating Trans Women & How This Affects Our Lives. Available at: http://janetmock.com/2013/09/12/men-who-date-attracted-to-trans-women-stigma/
Pinch, S. (2014) How to be a cisgender all to trans* folks. Available at: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/activist-toolkit/2014/02/how-to-be-cisgender-ally-to-trans-folks
The Open Society Foundations. (2014) Licence to be yourself. Available at: https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/license-to-be-yourself-20140501.pdf
TransPulse. (2012) Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth. Available at: http://transpulseproject.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Impacts-of-Strong-Parental-Support-for-Trans-Youth-vFINAL.pdf
Titman, N. (2014) How many people in the United Kingdom are nonbinary?. Available at: http://practicalandrogyny.com/2014/12/16/how-many-people-in-the-uk-are-nonbinary/
TSER. Transgender Day of Visibility. Available at: http://www.transstudent.org/tdov