Photograph by RODNAE Productions at Pexels
Jamie Aldridge looks at the positive qualities trans people bring to our community
It’s only in the last 20 years that trans people have really begun to gain legal recognition and visibility in the media and society.
It was only in 2002 that the Government confirmed that being transgender is not a mental illness, despite homosexuality being decriminalised in 1982, and declassified as a mental illness in 1987. It wasn’t until 2004 that trans people could be legally recognised as their preferred gender in the UK.
Despite these successes, it takes time for society’s attitudes to change, and trans people often find that they need to develop resilience to endure the prejudices that still exist.
In focus groups with young people, we discussed what it means to be trans, the difficulties young trans people face, and how cisgender people can be good allies for trans loved ones.
These were the most common strengths and achievements students attributed to young trans people:
Strength #1: Trans people have the bravery and confidence to be themselves
Not everyone is accepting of gender diversity. Trans youth are statistically more likely to face bullying, harassment and hate crime. Stonewall has found that trans students are at particular risk of bullying: 51 per cent of trans students and 57 per cent of non-binary students are bullied about their gender identity at school. Nearly one in ten trans students are subjected to death threats at school.
To be a young trans person in today’s society, you may have had to come out to family, friends, classmates, teachers and medical professionals. You may have been referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to support your emotional wellbeing, or may have been put on a long waiting list for the children’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS).
As a young adult, I’ve had to become more brave and independent, and challenge myself to engage with the trans community. I’ve had to navigate adult gender identity services and find trans support groups, despite having social anxiety.
Strength #2: Trans people are accepting and respectful of others
A trans person’s experiences, in terms of coming out and transitioning, can often create loneliness, a sense of ‘otherness’ because of their gender identity. This means that they can cultivate an awareness of people’s differences, being able to empathise with other people from minority communities. This can make them a positive force for acceptance in wider society.
A non-profit gym, Projekt42 in Edinburgh, aims to create a positive and inclusive space for gender non-conforming service users. It’s become the first gym to offer classes specifically supporting trans clients. The two classes are designed to be inclusive to transmasculine and transfeminine people, as well as non-binary people (who can attend whichever class they prefer). The classes were initiated in response to the exclusion felt by trans and non-binary staff and clients in mainstream gyms.
In London, cliniQ is a sexual health and wellbeing service for trans people. They run a weekly trans and queer yoga class, creating a safe, non-judgemental space for trans people to feel more relaxed, be stronger and get fitter.
Strength #3: Trans activists have persevered in campaigning for equal rights
Trans people have had to fight hard for their rights, leading to some important developments in recent years:
Trans activists pushed for the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to be reviewed by Parliament. Many trans people feel the gender recognition process is currently too expensive, bureaucratic and difficult to access. Following their campaigning, the Government has agreed to make minor changes to the Act, such as lowering the cost to apply to just £5. While this is a positive step forward, many campaigners feel the reforms haven’t gone far enough, for example by not allowing non-binary people to change their legal documents to match their gender identity.
The Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum has been reformed in the UK for the first time since 2000, to include educating pupils as young as four about the importance of healthy relationships (which includes LGBT identities).
The Girl Guides released a new policy, allowing transgender children to join the organisation. Despite fierce criticism, the policy has been upheld, with the organisation highlighting that ‘simply being transgender does not make someone more of a safeguarding risk than any other person’
Strength #4: Trans people are open, and some are willing to educate others
It’s not every trans person’s responsibility to educate anyone who challenges their gender identity. Trans people have the same right to a private life as everyone else, but some people are happy to answer questions put to them sensitively.
Trans people are often hesitant to disclose their trans status due to a fear of being discriminated against. Coming out at work or school can seem scary and stressful. It may mean having to educate your manager or teacher about gender identity, but it can be a positive experience for both parties.
Research has shown that in the workplace, having a supportive, LGBT-friendly working environment is conducive to better staff morale, fewer sickness absences and increased productivity. Feeling your LGBT status is accepted at work or in school is associated with better mental health and physical wellbeing.
If your school or employer isn’t experienced in supporting trans people, LGBT charity Educate and Celebrate can provide workshops, training and resources to create a more inclusive environment. Last call to register for their fully-funded PRIDE in Inclusion Award, for more information see here.
Funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, distributed by CommUNITY Barnet Giving has helped us with this work. Thanks to National Lottery players for making this possible.