Trans rights are human rights

An Cailín Rua

FREE SPEECH? The rights and existence of trans people were debated at length in the most insensitive and melodramatic of ways under the guise of free speech on Joe Duffy’s Liveline show on RTÉ Radio One.

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Most of us cannot imagine what it is like to grow up in the wrong body. But for up to one percent of the population, this is a reality. Transgender people have a gender identity that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, something that can result in gender dysphoria, a severe psychosocial distress. For trans people who wish to transition, the path is long, fraught with difficulty and expense. It can include invasive, difficult assessment processes, hormone replacement therapy, sex reassignment surgery or psychotherapy. Travel abroad is usually required for surgery, limiting access to aftercare. A study by Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) in 2013 showed that nearly 8 in 10 transgender people had considered suicide. Does it sound like an easy path?
This writer cannot claim to be an expert on the topic, but recent media coverage suggests that there are lots of experts out there, many with no lived experience, and little empathy or kindness towards those in this vulnerable category, who generally just want to live their lives in peace.
Recently, RTÉ’s Liveline, heard a complaint from a group denied access to the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s AGM, ostensibly because they object to the proposed amendment of the Maternity Protection Act to include the term ‘people’ as well as ‘women’. The purpose of this is to include non-binary people and trans women. The discussion broadened and for three days, the rights and existence of trans people, including their access to public spaces were debated at length in the most insensitive and melodramatic of ways under the guise of free speech.
This debate is raging globally. Republican-controlled states in the US have passed anti-trans laws and the far right (including Vladimir Putin) routinely undermine trans rights. Author JK Rowling has argued that reform of the UK Gender Recognition Bill would harm vulnerable women, removing their right to access women-only spaces. This, despite the fact that some of the most vulnerable women in society are in fact, trans women. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism has taken root in the UK and is in danger of spreading over here. You’d hope we are smarter than that.
Those arguing that the inclusion of words like ‘person’ or ‘parent’ undermines women in legislation would want to focus their energies on addressing real problems. Mothers are parents, and have those objecting forgotten that women are people too? While it is true that women have too often been treated by contempt and violence by the state, it is ludicrous to suggest that the use of inclusive language compromises our rights or safety. Actual threats to our wellbeing include the ongoing uphill battle for accessible reproductive healthcare, and - let’s be clear – the biggest threat of all, male violence, and the patriarchal structures sustaining it. Men have never needed to pretend to be women to gain access to women’s spaces or harm them. A brief look at the news will reassure anyone with concerns that it is people born as and identifying as men, not trans women, who continue to assault and kill women with alarming regularity
This ‘debate’ harks back to the bad old days, when gay people were once labelled as problematic, a threat to society. How backwards such fearmongering seems now, and yet, here we are again. These fears can stem from a lack of education and understanding, and perhaps it is time we started having better conversations – and not on phone-in radio shows ruled by dichotomy.
In July 2015, the Gender Recognition Act was passed, giving trans people full legal recognition of their preferred gender and access to new birth certificates. The world has not fallen in while the lives of trans people are a tiny bit easier. A nonsensical accusation is now emerging that the Act was ‘rushed’ through without debate; this despite wall-to-wall media coverage at the time of the Dr Lydia Foy’s case. Another manufactured debate.
As for Liveline, “free speech” brings with it great responsibility, The things we say have consequences for other people, too. Trans people are who they say they are. They are some of the most courageous people you will ever meet, not because they set out to be, but because they have to be. And they deserve to be able to do mundane, ordinary things like switching on their radios in the middle of the day without hearing their existence debated.