The definition of hypocrisy is a learned necessity in British education. Gates in To Kill a Mockingbird; Daisy in The Great Gatsby; every Modern Studies classroom debate, ever. The variation, though, in how long these learnings remain with us, conscious and considered, after we stray out – like puppies amongst traffic – into the big, bad, beautiful world, is as ranging and turbulent as it is unpredictable.
‘When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you,’ goes the well-known saying. And if recent media window-dress shuffles and progressive Westminster discussions are anything to go by, those three fingers have become more difficult to ignore than ever before.
How long could joyous, monumental strides be made in improving the statutory rights and social positions of gay and lesbian – and to an indisputably lesser degree, bisexual – men and women without the cold spiky thorn of intolerance pricking our own fatuously well-intentioned hands at the inclusion of the term ‘transgender’? Perhaps you’ve never even thought about the ‘T’ in LGBT. Why would you? If you’re not trans*, why should you? Then again, that individualist approach hasn’t worked well in the past.
Our collective acronym, be it LGBT, GSI or any possible newer variation, is rendered null and void the moment we disregard, through lack of interest or outright transphobia, the humanity and the importance of our siblings-in-arms who have often fought continuously, and are still fighting, for our rights. Not necessarily theirs – ours.
In Scotland, trans men and women are able to marry whomever they like. In England and Wales, thanks to the appallingly regressive spousal veto, this is not the case. Sex education in the UK is still geared towards heterosexuals and self-loathing prospective priests, with no mandatory requirement for health issues relating to MSMs and WSWs (owing greatly to the defeat of a bill in Westminster last year that would have remedied this). Such education is now at the discretion of teachers, teachers perhaps more knowledgeable than their whip-cracking predecessors in gay and lesbian sexual health, but expectantly less so in trans* discussions.
Even Stonewall has come under not so much a fire, but a heated spoon to the back of the wrist for failing to include trans* people in their increasingly-flattening uphill battle against orientation inequality. In England and Wales, Stonewall refuses to lobby directly on transgender issues, in contrast to – yes, you’ve guessed correctly – Stonewall Scotland, who are renowned for their trans-inclusive research and campaigning. That makes this Glaswegian proud.
The moment a gay man – gay men being the Beyoncé of the LGBT lineup: most visible, most celebrated – sneers at the thought of transgender equality, at the notion of a trans* person not wishing to be unjustly made to feel uncomfortable, not because of some heinous action or questionable viewpoint, but because of who they innately and unavoidably are, it eclipses any and all complaints of homophobia that a gay man has ever potentially made. His experiences, negative as they undoubtedly are, fall back into the shade of distasteful hypocrisy, and we all look the other way.
It’s easy in this new age of Upworthy to envisage intolerance in its physically manifested form as Intolerance, the baptist minister; Intolerance, the Christian radio hosts; or Intolerance, the back-bench MP – but that is undiluted simplicity. That is scapegoating on an industrialised scale. Transphobia exists within many spheres, and is perhaps most unchecked, unchallenged and pronounced within the LGBT community.
Have you ever found yourself in a gay club, drinking, dancing, then drinking some more, and looking across to a nearby trans* person and thinking, however fleetingly, ‘Thank God I don’t look like that. Thank God people [people: the heterosexuals] can’t tell that I’m gay/bisexual just by looking at me!’? I’m embarrassed to say I have, but I don’t think I’m alone.
What about in relationships? Would you have any qualms about taking your transgender boyfriend or girlfriend out on a date to the cinema in public, never mind home to meet mum and dad? For a great deal of LGB people, the answer is a deafening ‘Yes’, with a ‘personal preference’ label slapped on top as a means of disengagement from any real self-analysis.
Andy Davis, a psychosexual therapist for North-East Gender Dysphoria Service, works with the people compelled to deal with this specific sort of prejudice.
On the difficulties faced by trans* people because of transphobia, Davis says: ‘Some trans people can’t do everyday activities such as going shopping without getting stared at, attracting comments, having their self-esteem knocked or experiencing violence on occasion. When you put them together, all these difficulties can have a massive impact on mental health. Trans people may isolate themselves, and they may experience feelings of depression, suicide or self-harm. For example, they may mutilate their bodies by trying to remove the parts they’re not happy with, such as their breasts or penis. They may also start using alcohol or drugs as a way to escape.’
It’s not good enough for those of us who have never at any point come close to contemplating such things to just be aware of our own perceived luck, and be grateful not to have been born into bodies foreign to our wants and mannerisms. We ought to seek explanations, not justifications, for our own opinions and beliefs – or lack thereof – in relation to trans* people. We might not like what we find out about ourselves in doing so – those facing up to their prejudices rarely do – but all improvements come at the cost of educated transformation.
LGBT should not be an acronym restricted to our own direct experience. Make that change.