Jay StewartCo-Founder and CEO of Gendered Intelligence
Chamber UK recently met with Jay Stewart to discuss being transgender in the UK in 2022, and what he wants to see moving forward.
It is no secret that the transgender community in the UK is under attack. A brief glance at recent newspaper headlines shows trans people being accused of a range of lofty crimes, including bearing the sole responsibility for NHS funding shortfalls. Amidst this discourse, reported hate crimes against the transgender community in the UK rose by 120% between 2016/17-2020/21.
Chamber UK recently sat down with Jay Stewart, CEO and Co-Founder of Gendered Intelligence (a charity working to improve the understanding of gender diversity and improve the lives of trans and gender diverse people), to discuss the current climate for trans people and his hopes moving forward.
Get to know trans people
While Jay has remained hopeful about the future for trans rights in the UK, the recent increase in hostility in the media has certainly made things harder.
“What has been a problem, and it’s got increasingly worse, is the representation of trans people in the British press and how hostile it’s got over the last three to five years.”
While Jay and Gendered Intelligence have long been advocates of the ‘Harvey Milk’ approach, encouraging trans people to be out, proud and visible in their local communities to show people that they are just like anyone else, the ongoing narratives have made bridging this gap much harder.
“The thing about being trans now and being gay back in the 70s, is that it’s not safe. So, we want to encourage trans people to be visible in everyday settings, but we also understand that not everybody can afford to do that.”
A recent YouGov poll showed the profound impact that knowing a trans person has on the public’s awareness of and support for the trans community. The research found that, among people who had a trans friend or family member, support for trans people’s ability to change their social gender stood at 80%. For those without a trans friend or family member, this number fell to 49%.
“Trans people get kind of dehumanised and if you don’t know a trans person, then you’re not going to have that human reference point, you’re going to think about it in much more abstract terms… if more people know trans people, they’re more likely to have positive attitudes towards them.”
Indeed, this research seemed to indicate that opposition to trans rights is largely borne out of a lack of exposure to trans people and trans lives.
Leaning into the nuance
In what has become a massively polarised debate, Stewart also emphasised the importance of engaging with not just the black and white, but also the shades of grey and the nuances that are inherent in these discussions.
“The polarisation is that there are trans rights and there are women’s rights, and that they are in opposition, and that is absolutely not the case.”
As was pointed out by Stewart, not only are trans rights and women’s rights not in conflict, but in many cases, they are mutually constitutive. An example is the recent ban by the swimming world’s governing body, FINA, which saw transgender women banned from elite female competitions if they had experienced any male puberty.
Given how restrictive the ban is, the only way to enforce this ruling will be the policing of both trans and cis women’s bodies in swimming, violating the privacy rights of all women swimmers. Trans women will not be the only ones to suffer from this ban. These policies involve a large degree of guesswork around who is trans because we don’t know who is trans and who isn’t.
With the enforcement of this ruling, you can expect many cis women to face harassment and privacy violations when they do not conform to stereotypical assumptions about what women look like. Consider for instance a woman who is balding, a woman who has had a mastectomy, or a woman with facial hair that they choose not to remove. These are just some of the types of cis women who have already faced harassment, violence and legal repercussions for using women’s bathrooms.
As has often been the case throughout history, attacks on the rights of minorities often hit women as well. It is not the case that trans rights and women’s rights are dialectically opposed. More often than not, they are often inexorably linked.
When Mike Freer resigned as Minister for Equalities, he accused Boris Johnson’s Government of creating an “atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people”. When asked how he assessed the record of the successive Conservative Government on trans issues, Stewart was unequivocal.
“We realised we were in a very different place with the U-turn on gender recognition act reform after Theresa May and since then, we’ve seen hostility coming from this Government with regards to trans rights in different veins, including the conversion therapy ban… there was no hope around this Government thinking in a humane way towards trans people.”
New Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has already pledged a trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban, however, beyond this, Stewart’s hopes for the new Government were two-fold. Firstly, he hoped for a discursive shift in the tone of the Government on trans issues.
“I’m hoping to see better rhetoric coming from the Government with regards to how they are contributing to the discourse of trans inclusion in society… a more human understanding.”
The second component related to the more practical policy issues for the trans community, with healthcare being at the top of the list.
Following the interim report of the Cass Review (an independent review of Gender Identity services for young people), the Gender Identity Clinic hosted at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust was closed and will be replaced by a series of eight regional centres across the country.
While the regionalisation of care is something that the trans community has been calling for many years, there remain concerns around the level of the resource being dedicated to these centres:
“In general terms, we are feeling positive about moving to the regional model, we just need to get more people through the system. We need to deal with this waiting list, it’s a complete scandal that it’s got this bad. In terms of logistics, we’ve got concerns about how this is going to happen. We don’t have the staff to provide these services.”
With waiting lists standing at over four years for a first appointment at the Gender Identity Clinic hosted at the Tavistock and Portman Trust, Stewart noted that trans people experiencing poverty have been hit the hardest. As such, it is crucial that regionalisation is made to work for the most vulnerable:
“There’s always been a two-tier model in England around trans people going private or going through the NHS system, but it seems that the NHS is just not a decent offer at the moment and that impacts the people who are most marginalised and experience more poverty.”
The new Government has a material chance to better the lives of the trans community with the rollout of a new healthcare model. However, without a shift in the discourse, things will remain incredibly hard for many and so, it is extremely important that Liz Truss is cognisant of how the rhetoric of her government affects actual trans people’s lives.
Despite the hostility faced by the community in recent years, Stewart retains an optimistic outlook.
“I’ve always had faith in the public around a general sense that people should be able to be who they are and live the lives that they want to live.”
The question, therefore, will be around the degree to which media and government narratives muddy these waters with lazy fictions of trans people, as a group intent on rolling back the rights of women.