By Janine S White: Culture Editor
With 2.2% of over 16’s in the UK identifying as LGBTQI+, 1% of which identifying as transgender or non-binary, it is becoming commonplace for someone to know of someone who is trans. It should no longer be hidden, shied from or denied. Non-binary is a term that has become more prevalent in recent years and describes individuals who classify themselves as both male and female or as neither. Talking to teenagers who say they are trans, the choices for who they can categorise has grown enormously. Simple search engine explorations provide dictionaries on phrases and meanings. A handful of options include gender fluid, Agender, bigender, polygender, intergender, trans feminine, trans masculine, demi boy, demi girl. On the streets, surrounding the youth who are trying to work out their pronouns there is, Xi, Zir, Fae and much more.
83% of LGBT people have experienced verbal abuse and two thirds have been discriminated against.
The ideology of male and female being the two distinct genders is a notion that was been embedded in everyday culture within the Western world. Through missionaries, charities and globalisation, this principle has spread into other cultures. When the word trans is added however, the construction of male and female falls firmly back into the accepted groups of binary males and female only despite the long history of such differences. In Sulawesi, Indonesia, there are five genders. In India, Hijra is a third gender which is admired and important to their society. Dating back thousands of years, they are responsible for male and female roles, a spiritual bargainer and dancers at weddings. Native Americans had a third gender that was celebrated for beliefs in their healing abilities and visions. These alternatives to the binary male and female, were and are celebrated, treated as important people and given a powerful, spiritual and important status within cultures. The further the Western world spreads its principles; the less acceptance is secured by anyone who does not fit societies ideas.
The western focus on the individual sexes is apparent in all ways; men’s barber shops, women’s salons, women only swimming, male and female toilets, the list goes on. For these human beings who are unable to fit into these robust categories, the internal fights are colossal. Many trans people speak of having to decide which toilet is safest to go in, often being ridiculed and shouted at for being in ‘the wrong one’. Other issues include their identification. Even if their name is changed legally through Deed Poll, they need to provide the birth certificate alongside which contradicts the liberation of a legal change, therefore having to continuously come out of the closet to whomever is enquiring.
Young people who are in the process of changing details are often dealing with mental health issues which have arisen through being incongruent to themselves. For the 300,000 people who have attempted suicide or self-harmed in relation to their bodies telling a different story to who they are, the health system is inadequate. Medical notes, names above the beds, medication, all have the old, dead name upon them until a new National Health Service identity is agreed and created by medical professionals. Thus, reinforcing to the young person that they are not who they should be. On top of this, they are put under pressure to decide on their sexuality as soon as they ‘come out’. Professionals, friends, family, all asking where the sexual attraction lies. How many gender binary people get asked what their sexuality is?
In a country which declares itself as accepting and inclusive, it is difficult to get it right, yet the importance of doing so is immense. Almost half of trans individuals have attempted suicide because of self-hatred around not conforming to societies expectations, because they have been disowned, or bullied, or left to deal with their emotions alone. It is common for parents to push their child to conform, to refuse to accept differences where gender is concerned or to believe that ‘it is just a phase’.
As recently as 2017 a British trans woman was granted asylum in New Zealand as the UK was so transphobic. Shockingly, people are beginning to flee the UK as refugees on LGBTQI+ grounds.
The Equality Act 2010 listed trans as a protected characteristic so that individuals could no longer be discriminated against due to this attribute. This was conflicting with information from other sources however, as it was not until last year that the World Health Organisation announced the declassification of transsexualism. Prior to this it was still considered to be a mental illness which required treatment. At present, countries have until January 2022 to remove it from their mental health judgements. That is some twelve years after the Equality Act 2010.
To be able to become a culture of acceptance despite differences, to become a country that it accommodating to all needs of society, it is imperative that everyone works together and that the views of experts correlate with one another.
The United Kingdom prides itself on its legislation to protect the rights of LGBT+ people, after all, it was one of the first countries to legalise same sex marriage, to incorporate transgender into the Equality Act and to impose tougher sentences on transphobic hate crimes, yet there are still issues that are faced each day for those who identify as trans. Changes are difficult for any culture. When society has become accustomed to certain ideals, beliefs and acceptability’s, it takes time to change them, to create a new culture where everyone is judged on their own merits, the skills that they have acquired, the love that they have provided and the good that they can do this country.
Trans individuals feel a loss of belonging, alone and yet continue their upward battle to be equals to the rest of society, to be acknowledged as survivors, as fighters for an equal and peaceful society where everyone can provide something for each other. To be able to get on with their education without being bullied, to be able to get work without worrying that they will need to work ten times harder than others to keep it, to be able to raise their families and live a life as anyone else would. That instead of them being the others, they are us.
Thanks to metrosexual men, tomboys and a whole other array of traditional alterations the belief of gender roles is being questioned within society. With new legislation and guidance, the UK is showing willingness. Maybe, it is time for the Western world to take on the Eastern values? To celebrate the differences and to commend the immense strength of those who dare to be themselves.