Written by Lee Brown
What knowledge and understanding do you have of transgender people?
That sentence in itself suggests that we are one conglomerate mass, a hive mind of gender identity. Whilst our current government may want you to lump us all together (as a threat to women’s rights, children and NHS healthcare) to fully understand transgender people you need to look at the reality; we are individuals who are simply trying to live.
It’s rather hard putting yourself out into the world, especially when you’re transgender. I like to think of myself as “out and proud”, but I once described myself as a “quiet activist”. I think it’s fair to say that both are true, but it’s hard to reconcile the feeling that if I’m not out protesting, or shouting to be heard, then I’m not doing enough by my trans siblings. This blog feels like a way to weed out those negative feelings, and my thoughts as an individual.
I wasn’t exactly ‘trans aware’ until 2015. At least not in a way that was positive. My understanding of what it meant to be transgender had four key representations:
Hayley Cropper A character in UK soap Coronation Street; often at the centre of many scandalous storylines at the time of me watching
Ava Moore An antagonist in the US TV show Nip/Tuck; Ava is manipulative, preys on young men, and only transitioned to be with a straight plastic surgeon
Arun Parmer An inmate in the UK prison drama Bad Girls; Arun’s storyline results in transphobic harassment and assault once it is discovered that she is transgender
Tania (surname unknown) A “gender challenged male” in the comedy Dude, Where’s My Car?; a stripper who upon showing their penis causes Ashton Kutcher’s character to wretch and gag.
All of the above are transgender women (sorry, three transgender women and one “gender-challenged male”). All played by cisgender women. All with their identities reduced to negative stereotypes and spectacles. A small, scandalised variety of media was the only way I knew about transgender people and so by proxy I didn’t know that there was a possibility of me being transgender and, more to the point, me being transgender and happy.
I didn’t know that I was transgender until I started university, age 24. This was the first time that I encountered transgender people and being acknowledged positively, or at least somewhat factually, in an educational environment. Even then, my final project of the year prior to unleashing ‘Lee’ into the world was discussing transphobia and the suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. I wasn’t really aware of the real life discrimination and harassment of transgender people until then, and I fear this realisation only happened because of the growth of my friendship circles at university. I had to look further than what my immediate environment and resources allowed me - something you should do too.
Since 2015 there have been positive changes in film and television. We see transgender people playing transgender characters, we have trans people on reality shows, and in these instances both characters and real people are not limited to the box labelled ‘transgender’. They are allowed to be more than that. They are allowed to be themselves.
Sadly, This is not reflected in politics or the news, and legislation is threatened. And while film and television can reflect reality, it is not actually reality. Wouldn’t it be beneficial if the reality of trans lives was taught in schools?
Twenty years ago, in 2003, Section 28 ended. This meant that schools that previously could not include anything LGBT+ based in their curriculum were now at liberty to do so.
In 2003 I was in High School, and yet I do not remember being taught anything about LGBT+ people. I cannot help but wonder whether I would have realised that I was transgender earlier if I had encountered positive iterations of trans people throughout my education. Sex education and pastoral care in schools is already incredibly limited, only more recently adding in discussion of same sex relationships and entanglements. Gender diversity was never mentioned at my school but if it had been, I doubt my year 9 science teacher, who looked remarkably like Mr. Burns, would have handled the discussion respectfully (especially given his stumbling on the topic of sexually transmitted diseases until my classmate passed out at a close up of an infected penis).
I know first hand through friendships with teachers and parents of trans kids that there are many people trying to do their best by trans students. Unfortunately, these positive and nurturing voices are threatened (often literally) for trying to support children and help them to live their best lives. You can assist here; not necessarily as a teacher, educator, mentor or even parent. If you consider yourself a good person then you have the credentials to you can make sure that trans kids know that they are valued.
Use this Transgender Awareness Week to educate yourselves, and fact check what you absorb. I invite you to question your ‘awareness’ of transgender people, especially trans kids. Who is the narrative led by? What have you been told? And what do you believe, versus what you actually know?