Transitioning is not a simple matter.
Gender identity is central to the way most of us live our lives.
These two facts mean that there is a strong incentive to turn Trans people and their interaction with society into a political football generating clicks and outrage, heat rather than light.
Yesterday Jamie Wallis MP came out as UK’s first Trans MP and the only national representative in Western politics who is openly Trans. Though this is a watershed moment for Trans political representation, it has occurred under traumatic and disturbing circumstances for Jamie himself.
His sharing of a gender dysphoria diagnosis has been widely hailed as brave by fellow parliamentarians and Trans allies alike. Certainly it is brave for anyone, and particularly someone in his position to come out as Trans, because transitioning is not yet normalised in our society and he risks placing himself at the centre of a potential culture war in UK politics.
Can a woman have a penis?
It’s the question on everyone’s lips. And the answer (drumroll please): It depends.
Reports in recent days have suggested that Keir Starmer was unable to answer what is often mischaracterised as a simple question, after he said: “I don’t think that discussing this issue in this way helps anyone in the long run.” However, on this point he is absolutely correct. Sex and gender identity are both more complex than anything captured by a male/female binary understanding, and at present, mainstream language does not reflect this.
To be clear, this obsession with genitalia serves no one, least of all Trans people.
In the UK, trans people have seen rising rates of hate crime over recent years. The community faces a mental health crisis unlike any other demographic in the UK and resultingly, tragically high rates of suicide and attempted suicide. Moreover, trans healthcare is in disarray, with many people facing wait times of two years for their first appointment with a gender identity clinic.
Trans people will die if unable to access cervical screenings, because of the mental health crisis in the Trans community and because of hate crimes committed against them. No amount of Trans cycling will have such dire consequences. The more time we spend on unproductive conversations about the swimming pool and the velodrome the less time we are dedicating to saving lives.
Can journalists have balls?
Why then are journalists asking genitalia-questions?
The reasons are financial. People engaged in the online discourse on Trans issues have sorted themselves into camps, on one side “Trans (wo)men are (wo)men” is a slogan that asserts people’s sovereignty over their own gender. On the other side are those who cling to the gender binary and ignore, mock or suspect anyone who falls outside of it.
In exploiting this division by asking a politician “Can a woman have a penis?” an interviewer achieves three things. They make the politician look silly as any accurate answer will require a couple of paragraphs even if a “yes or no” is demanded by the interviewer. They enrage one side of the internet who see this as a bigoted dog-whistle and they enrage the other half of the internet who are unhappy with the wishy washy answer given. All of which results in clicks, recognition and money.
As we have seen with many ‘culture war’ issues from guns in the US to Brexit over here, the internet’s impotent rage can quickly translate into society wide polarisation. We can’t allow that to happen when Trans people are in the crossfire.
Actual Trans people
Today is Trans visibility day. The writer and editors of this article are not Trans, though we work closely with the Trans community on these issues as part of our LGBT+ Commission. So it seems a good juncture to highlight that Trans people are almost always excluded from these “debates”. When journalists raise these issues, they do so not with Trans people with actual lived experience, but with politicians they seek to embarrass.
Society is clearly failing Trans people and it is hard to imagine the obsession with their genitals in the media or the PM cracking lame jokes at Tory dinners helps.
We at Chamber would like to centre Trans voices whenever the “Trans issue” is raised. If you would like to submit an article to us for publication, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Marc Nozell