So today, 31st March, is International Transgender Day Of Visibility. It’s an idea started by Rachel Crandall-Crocker and Transgender Michigan as a day to visibly celebrate being transgender. The goal of the day is to raise awareness of the discrimination and harassment experienced by trans people and to encourage people to support trans people.
However to be honest, I have a few issues with the idea.
Firstly I am not comfortable with the focus on transgender. Increasingly as I deliver transgender awareness training I am realising that the issue is not transgender – it is gender. There are so many labels now for every conceivable form of gender non-confirmity – and if you take a quick look at the cat-walks right now you will see a growing middle ground between genders. There is a growing demand for recognition of a third gender between male and female and you may have heard that Sweden has just officially added a third pronoun to its dictionary.
So do people really want to identify as transgender which is clearly a label to describe someone transitioning from one gender to another? UK statistics suggest that there are about 300,000 trans people – but to date less than 4000 gender recognition certificates have been issued. A growing number of people are not applying for gender recognition because there are only two options.
80% of transgender people appear to be male to female. Does that mean that women are less likely be gender dysphoric (uncomfortable with the gender assigned at birth)? The reality is that women do not need to identify as men in order to express themselves in a masculine way, while men have to either pass as women or be perceived as gay if they want to wear anything recognisably feminine.
And it’s this that brings me to my main issues with International Transgender Day Of Visibility. Most of the trans people I have met and worked with and the hundreds who contributed to the research for my masters degree, don’t want to be visible. When I first began cross dressing I wanted to be able to walk down the street, go shopping and engage in life as a woman – I did not want to be noticed as a trans woman because that exposed me to risk of humiliation, harassment or worse.
Trans people want to pass unnoticed as the men or women they feel they should have been born. Increasingly gender variant children are being given the option to suspend puberty and begin gender reassignment by the age of 14 with full surgical transition at 16. These children will grow up to be men or women – not trans. Only a brave few like Jazz Jennings will chose to be visible activists.
The big challenge is that most people don’t understand the difference between sex and gender. Sex is about biology – hormones, chromosomes, and reproduction while gender is about the way we express ourselves – the social construction of sexual identity. Nature versus Nurture.
For many, and especially the religious bigots who are currently very active around the world, sex organs are all that matters. If you are born with a penis you are male, otherwise you are female and that’s it. They look or listen for secondary sexual characteristics like breasts, body hair, voice, gestures etc and on the basis of that, assign a set of gender rules. Any breach of those rules is taken as an indication of homosexuality. Most of the harassment and humiliation that takes place is driven by that assumption that we engage in forbidden sexual practices.
This is the real battle that we need to address. I want the right to express myself in anyway that I like. I have a gender recognition certificate so that legally I am female. But I don’t want now to have to express myself only in ways that are defined for women, yet I am frequently challenged for wearing clothes or behaving in a way that is not overtly female.
Perhaps what we need to see now is a growth in the idea of being bi-gender – just as we see a growing number of people expressing themselves as bi-sexual. It’s time to abandon binaries in favour of a spectrum of gender and sexual expression that allows everyone to be themselves, to express who they feel themselves to be without fear of humiliation, harassment of victimisation.