Lucy Masoud – let me tell you what it feels like to use a changing room as a transgender person

Masoud, the Fire Brigade’s LGBT union representative, not only insulted trans people on the Today programme, but also undermined her role. Her job is to stand up for workers, particularly those who are most vulnerable to being abused

Yas Necati
Wednesday 21 March 2018 18:00
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Lucy Masoud 'transphobic' comments on BBC Radio 4

The Fire Brigades Union’s LGBT representative Lucy Masoud’s comments on the Today Programme this morning were not only upsetting, but showed a deep misunderstanding of the experience of being transgender, which she admitted herself – “I’m not even sure what that means.”

Masoud described opening up all women’s shortlists to transgender women as “opening up shortlists to men simply because they feel like women”.

As the “debate” went on, she imagined a situation: “I’m in a female only changing area, someone comes in who has self-identified as a woman, yet is clearly a man”. Despite completely missing the point of what self-identifying as a woman actually means – that person is a woman – she doesn’t seem to consider how that transgender woman might be feeling knowing that many around her probably have the same opinion that Masoud does.

Lucy Masoud is a lesbian, so I’m wondering if she’ll have any empathy with my secondary school changing room experience as a queer person. I spent the entirety of my school years mortified every time we had to get changed for sports classes. I would rush to get to the changing room quickly so that I could be there at a different time to everyone else, or at least get a spot in the corner where I could hide. I would get dressed facing the walls because I was ashamed to be in that space. I was fearful that just by being there I might make anyone’s women’s only space less comfortable.

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I was only at school a few years ago, but I know that these feelings are the leftovers of discrimination that queer people have faced for decades – the argument that queer people shouldn’t share the same changing rooms and toilets as straight people. We were called “perverts” for years. This was what queers were facing a few decades ago, and it’s what transgender people are facing today: being told to get out of a space that should be ours because we are part of a minority.

I feel this same shame now – I can’t think of many spaces I feel more self-aware and scared than in changing rooms and toilets. I often notice people looking at me twice or tensing when I enter. I’ve been asked to leave women’s facilities too many times to count. Far from a threat to anyone in those spaces, it is me who is more likely to be hurt – physically or by words.

I was assigned female at birth but I’m a non-binary person. Being transgender in any facility designed to fit binaries – whether it’s “male” or “female” – is terrifying. It means that often transgender people try to avoid those spaces altogether.

Earlier this week two women “activists” went to a men’s only swim session in an attempt to undermine self-identification of transgender people. They probably thought they were pulling a stunt that was “funny” and “clever” by mocking trans people.

I wish I could meet these activists. I wish I could tell them in person that my gender dysphoria has caused me to avoid swimming pools for years. On the rare occasions that I feel brave enough to swim, I wear shorts and a top to try to cover my body. I feel people staring – in the changing rooms, in the pool, at the beach.

I also wear this suit to cover the scars on my legs and torso that are a result of self-harm. They are scars that mark out words people have said to me – both homophobic and transphobic slurs. I hide them and I try to hide myself, make myself as invisible as possible. I know so many trans people who do the same – for these women to make such a mockery of how traumatising it is for trans people not just to enter a gendered space, but literally any space, shows how little they understand about the trauma transgender people face.

I wish I could talk to these activists in person – but they would probably blame my mental health for me being transgender, rather than accept that I am transgender and that my mental health has been made so much worse by people like them mocking my existence. This is not only insulting, but undermines mental health issues.

I ask them and I ask Masoud – would somebody risk all of this trauma and exclusion “simply because they feel like a woman”, as Masoud put it? We don’t live as our preferred gender because, as Masoud seems to think, we “wake up one day and declare ‘I’m a woman’”.

Obviously I can’t speak for all transgender people, but for many the process of coming to terms with who we are takes years – and it is something we often hide for fear of being ostracised by our families, friends – and random people in changing rooms.

It often means we face suffering from mental illness, discrimination at work or school or unemployment, housing issues, homelessness, rejection by the people we love the most and being terrified literally just to go and pee. Who would choose that?

Not only is this backlash against trans people harmful, it is also illogical.

Transgender women have been accessing women-only spaces for decades – from toilets to refuges for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. This has never been contested so fiercely as it is being now, and it’s also never posed a problem. The argument that self-identification will somehow affect access to gendered spaces is ridiculous – after all, who’s ever had to produce a birth certificate to go to use a changing room or go to a swim group?

I can’t imagine how transgender members of the Fire Brigades Union must be feeling after hearing Masoud speaking this morning.

If I was a fire fighter facing transphobia at work I would feel like the last person I could speak to was my union representative. It’s sadly ironic. Masoud has not only insulted trans people, but she’s undermined her role. She should be standing up for workers’ rights, particularly those who are most vulnerable to being abused.

She described transgender people as having a “radical trans ideology”, but I can’t understand what is so radical about not discriminating against somebody because they are slightly different to you. That’s all transgender people are asking, and we deserve representatives who support us.

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