Transgender rights; the next frontier

The US Supreme Court’s approval of same sex marriage across all 50 states has been met with a roar of approval around the world, and adds to a pattern of countries around the world opening up on this issue because they finally realise that it is none of your damn business who other people marry. I do not have any special expertise informing what I say here. I have the experience of being in a minority (disabled), and a common sense attitude towards social justice.

So what’s next? Well, happily there is another civil rights matter worth looking into that is along the same lines as same sex marriage in that it fits into the none of your damn business category. Transgender people are those whose gender identity is different from what they were assigned at birth. There’s more to womanhood than the ability to give birth and a different set of genitals to men. There is more to manhood than a simpler reproductive organ to woman and greater muscle mass. The identity comes in when you look at how we interact with one another. For social animals this is crucial to survival. On that point 41 percent of transgender people in the US have attempted suicide. There is no way to draw encouragement from that statistic beyond feeling an urgent need to change things dramatically.

First on the chopping block of things that need to be promptly destroyed is the genital fascination. There is nothing particular to transgender people that makes it more appropriate to ask them about, or try to get a look at, their genitals. Yet it is perversely common that transgender people get harassed in this way. Please watch John Oliver’s piece on Last Week Tonight to have the issue well summed up.

There is a lewd fascination with sex reassignment surgery on behalf of the general public, that I feel I should nail the myth right now. Not every transgender person wants surgery. It is a combination of personal preference and the fact that there is a scale to this. Some people are transgender and want to fully transition, others are transvestite and their identity is satisfied with clothing and cosmetics. Eddie Izzard anyone?

It also has little to do with sexual orientation, as one can see with Eddie Izzard. He paints his nails, wears fantastic make up, often wears high heels and flamboyantly gender fluid clothing, and yet he fancies girls. Strange? Not really. On the gender fluidity scale we also have Ruby Rose, the Australian with the short haircut and the tattoo sleeves who had most men and women united in attraction on Orange is the new Black.

But there are people like Laverne Cox (also Orange is the new Black) who was born male and has had surgery and hormone therapy to become female. She is being celebrated for being the first transgender person on the cover of Time magazine, and to have a waxwork at Madame Tussauds. This is at the price of having her personal life be the subject of media discussion.  The media are clumsily trying to figure out how to approach and talk about her, they trip themselves up on pronouns. For goodness sake, the simplest of things to get right. Don’t know how to address someone? ASK THEM. It is rude beyond belief to use the term ‘it’ and deprive them of any identity whatsoever. To use a really ridiculous example, if someone didn’t know whether to call me mister or master, or sir (as if), so they settled on rev. Yes. I would have a few things to say about that.

If you have watched the John Oliver piece then you will be familiar with the public toilet debate that is knocking around various US states at present. Ridiculous. To me as a wheelchair user whose public loos are usually unisex, I can’t really understand the problem. Here’s a good way to solve it though. Take the man and woman icons at face value. Thus, if someone is dressed as a female they should get to use the female loo and the same principle applies for the men’s loo. Don’t give me the what about the children rubbish. Physical assault is illegal anyway and not made more likely by the presence of transgender people, unless they are victims of it.

The solutions are simple. We can live in harmony with one another, and to do it we have to accept that the unknown may be uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean we can deprive other people the freedom to be who they feel they are, because at the same time we are denying ourselves the room to explore the depths of what it is to be human. With that I say Transgender rights should be the next frontier.

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