How has the existence and rights of transgender people been reduced to a ‘debate’?
To begin, here’s a brief definition of the term transgender: “a person who’s gender identity
doesn’t align with their assigned sex at birth”. This can be considered an umbrella term which includes male-to-female trans women, female-to-male trans men and non-binary/gender fluid individuals. Cisgender on the other hand refers to someone who identifies with the sex they
were assigned at birth.
As someone who has recently come out as non-binary, the ‘debate’ around transgender rights hits close to home. There are many ‘arguments’ which are often cited, so lets break down a few.
1. What if cis men pretend to be trans women so they can sexually assault women in
- Firstly, cis men sexually assault women enough outside of women’s
bathrooms (98% of sexual assault/rape perpetrators between 2017 and 2020
were male according to the Office for National Statistics).
- Secondly, 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in
their life according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (HRC). Trans
women are at high risk of sexual assault, especially trans women of colour,
they’re not the one’s perpetrating violence, they’re the victims of it.
- Also, of trans respondents to the National LGBT Survey, 80% said it hadn’t
been easy to access gender identity services. Waiting lists are long, leading to
an increase in self-harm and suicidality amongst trans individuals. No-one is
going through all that so they can assault women in bathrooms.
2. It’s just too hard to use gender neutral pronouns.
- Is it Karen? Is it really? What would you say if you saw a bag in the street,
which wasn’t obviously a ‘man’s’ or a ‘woman’s’? Maybe something like
“Oh, someone left their bag here,”.
- People who use they/them or neo-pronouns have had to adapt. I wasn’t born
knowing gender neutral language, and I was brought up in a society that called
me ‘she’, sometimes even I slip up. It’s about practice and respecting the
person enough to see them as they really are.
3. Trans and non-binary people shouldn’t be able to transitions until they’re 18.
- This disregards the use of puberty blockers, which can be a lifesaver for many
trans youth. Having to go through puberty in a body that feels wrong is
traumatic for many trans people, and doctors aren’t just helping people
transition willy-nilly, it’s a long process filled with physical and psychological
Part of the ‘debate’ around transgender existence and rights comes from J.K. Rowling. She
has made many comments stating that ‘sex is real’ and making fun of people saying: ‘people
who menstruate’. She has supported the TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist)
To make it clear that J.K. doesn’t actually care about LGBT rights in the way she says she
does, consider whether Harry Potter has any openly LGBT characters? She states that the
idea of questioning sex invalidates WLW (women loving women) same-sex relationships but
doesn’t have any lesbian characters. She said Dumbledore was gay, yes, but after the fact and without any real representation. To top it off, after Stephen King states that “Yes. Trans
women are women,” on Twitter, J.K. deleted a tweet she had earlier posted gushing over him. Oh, and yeah, her new book involves a cis male serial killer who dresses as a women to
murder cis women (Abby Gardner, Glamour, 2021).
The sad thing about all of this is that it does seem like J.K. believes she is standing up for
women. Women are assaulted, raped, and harmed on a daily basis, usually by cisgender men, but J.K. seems to be focusing the debate on trans women instead, even though there is no evidence that there is any threat from trans women to cis women (McKay, Lindquist and
Misra, 2019, cited by gov.scot). Additionally, there is no evidence of cisgender men claiming
to be trans women to access women-only spaces and services (Dunne, 2017, Stones 2017,
Stonewall 2018, cited by gov.scot).
Another participant in this ‘debate’ is MP Rosie Duffield, who replied to a CNN post which
said that ‘individuals with a cervix’ should get screened for cervical cancers from age 25 to
65. She said: “do you mean women?” and “I’m a transphobe for knowing that only women
have a cervix…?!”. To answer her question, yes.
See, human gender, and even sex itself, is complicated. Gender is not the same as sex. For example, according to the CDC sex is “an individuals biological status as male, female or
something else, which is assigned at birth and associated with anatomy and chromosomes”.
Gender identity is “an individuals sense of their self as man, woman, transgender or
something else” (CDC.gov).
I believe that part of the reason this has all been reduced to a debate is because trans
individuals just haven’t been recognised for so long in modern western culture. It also doesn’t help that in this culture there is a strong emphasis on the gender binary, with young boys being told to “man up” or little girls being expected to dress in certain ways. There is also a lack of understanding and education around gender non-conforming and trans identities.