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The constant attack on transgender people is costing us our lives

Like many trans people in the UK today, we’re growing tired of debating our existence. Despite support from various institutions such as the NHS and more recently the Church of England, many of the biggest media platforms in the UK seem willing to fuel misconceptions and hatred

Fox Fisher,Owl Fisher
Thursday 16 November 2017 16:48 GMT
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Being trans is an intrinsic part of who we are
Being trans is an intrinsic part of who we are (Alda Villiljós, Villiljós Visual Art)

In a few days trans people will meet all around the UK for Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we honour the lives of those who have been murdered simply for being who they are. A worldwide total of 325 trans people have been reported killed in the year up to September 2017 alone – who knows how large the number really is when factoring in those that went unreported?

Like many trans people in the UK today, we’re growing tired of debating our existence. Despite support from various institutions such as the NHS and more recently the Church of England, many of the biggest media platforms in the UK seem willing to fuel misconceptions and hatred towards the trans community.

Summer camp for transgender children in California

Trans people pose absolutely no greater threat to society or people within it than cisgender people, yet the media refuses to accept this fact. A recent Times article argued that more rights for transgender people would endanger children, both by forcing them to share a space with trans people and by making transitioning easier.

What articles such as these fail to realise is that all trans people were children too once. The sudden rise in young trans people seeking access to healthcare isn’t because it’s a trend or because of pressure from the “powerful trans lobby”– it’s because trans people are becoming less likely to suppress our true selves due to social shame, stigma and discrimination.

Specific trans people are targets of articles, in which they are constantly misgendered and called “girls who want to be boys” or “trans-women-born-males”. These articles suggest that it’s just something that we want to be as opposed to something that we actually are.

The comparison between trans kids seeking healthcare and anorexia and self-harm suggests it’s a social contagion, which can only be seen as a fancy way of saying it’s a fad or a trend amongst young people – much like the bigoted rhetoric around homosexuality which was considered acceptable not too long ago.

The problem with these comparisons is that it shows a lack of understanding of the experience of being trans. Being trans is an intrinsic part of who we are, and that in itself isn’t a mental illness or a medical condition. Experiencing gender dysphoria is a form of distress that can lead to severe mental health problems which can be alleviated through access to hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy and surgeries. Organisations such as Mermaids are under constant attack, but they offering vital services to trans children and their families. They have been targets of hostile and unjustified smear campaigns and their services and work attacked instead of celebrated.

Fox (left) and Owl campaign for transgender rights
Fox (left) and Owl campaign for transgender rights (Sharon Kilgannon)

We see headline after headline, demonising and vilifying trans people. We see our lives and realities trivialised, and any actions to increase our safety in public spaces such as gender neutral changing rooms get ridiculed.

We are said to be mentally ill and told that trans children and teens are in need of being cured instead of being supported and loved for who we are. The old tired trope of the “trans regret” has also been revived, despite numbers showing it rarely occurs and when it does the reasons behind it are often traced back to rigid gender norms imposed by society and how difficult it is to be trans in society because of stigma and lack of acceptance and recognition.

Accusations that dangerous men will use the right to self-identify to harass women and cause harm are complete rubbish. Since we already live in a male dominated society, abusers certainly do not need to resort to such drastic measures. If something like this did ever happen, you can bet it would be all over the media – but there have been no such incidents in the UK.

Yet transphobia is right in front of us, every single day. Every time we go to the shop we see fear mongering articles. But what we don’t focus on is the actual reality we face. Another trans woman killed; a trans woman found dead in a men’s prison; a 15 year-old-trans kid committing suicide. We switch on the TV, another documentary giving platform to someone who tried to "cure” trans children. We scroll through social media, another article about Piers Morgan trying to humiliate trans people.

It isn’t a coincidence that up to half of trans pupils have attempted suicide according to surveys. We have numerous pieces of research, telling us that it’s because of stigma, discrimination and abuse we face in society. It isn’t because we’re mentally ill and we need to be cured and learn to love ourselves in our assigned gender. It’s because society is failing us. It’s because you’re not listening. It’s because much of the media would rather debate our existence and brand us as mentally ill than do the decent thing and support us and allow us to live as our authentic selves.

Rates of regret in surgery
Rates of regret in surgery (TransActual @TransActualUK)

The fear mongering, the lies and the attack must stop. It literally costs lives. We’re not interested in proving ourselves as women, men or as non binary people. We’re interested in living more comfortably in our own skin. We care about being respected and valued as human beings, both in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of society.

You may not fully understand, but surely you can respect the wishes of trans people to exist and live an authentic life, just like you can. Once trans people gain all the rights we deserve, we are going to look back on this time. Which side of history do you want to be on?

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