It’s been amazing listening to the voice of regular people from all corners of society on the Untribal Podcast.
Today, a young man called Ethan joined me down in the studio to discuss the conversation surrounding gender that has become increasingly hostile over digital platforms such as Twitter.
It’s been a tough week for Ethan. He began the podcast by saying he’s a transgender person merely “trying to survive” in Scotland.
Alongside going through a difficult process of medically transitioning over the past 5 years, he’s just learned that the Conservative UK Government are seeking to renege on the rights for Transgender people to legally change their sex in the eyes of the law. This would exclude him from single-sex spaces such as toilets and changing rooms allocated for men like himself.
It was interesting to note that Ethan himself hasn’t got a Gender Recognition Certificate, something the debate has obsessed over in recent months. It is the difficulties, at least Twitter will tell you, intentionally in place to attain this certificate that acts as a safeguard for women. It requires a 2-year wait, a medical diagnosis and a hearing from a panel of strangers to attain one.
This doesn’t stop Ethan from living his life. He may need it in years to come when or if he decides to get married, or when he’s older to ensure that he is recognised for what he truly was on his death certificate… but other than that he’s felt free and comfortable within his own skin having ‘come out’ as transgender. “Life-changing,” in his words.
A part of him “has always known” his body didn’t align with how he was feeling. There was a significant “homecoming” moment when he found like people online and a community he can share his experiences with.
And when medical interventions became available, he felt like a new person. A genuine lease of life just like many others in the community.
As warned, however, the conversation has changed for the worse. We are now no longer talking about how to make life lived by Ethan easier, we’re throwing the existence of this community into doubt.
And as it was announced this week, welcomed by both Labour and Conservatives, the developed definition of sex could renege… and it put Ethan into a state of genuine fear.
I feel strongly about this because I resonate a lot with some of the lived experiences of the Trans community.
The mental strain on working out something that isn’t right in your body. Having to live through that experience of walking into a room full of strangers taking notes on your every move as they assess you… judging the confidence of you entering the room, heavily scrutinising everything you’re telling them with a real sense of scepticism. Struggling to find the right representation that actually believes what you’re talking about. All the while your anxiety is that bad you can feel your brain shaking within your heid.
Those that suffer from ME and have sought financial support in the UK will know exactly what I’m talking about.
I can only liken the recent intervention from the UK Government to them making a U-turn on my financial support, declaring that invisible disabilities such as ME do not exist and then pointing towards the lack of physical damage visibly present as justification. Telling my community that it’s all in their head, that they don’t believe in the pain that my sensory experience is presenting to me. All those, at times, traumatic memories rushing back. The fear of that mental state before the life-changing validation that you’re not going insane.
What pains me is the unfounded citation of ‘biological sex’… it all started with this insensitive question: can women have a penis?
The question we should’ve been asking is: can someone be born in the wrong body?
And the answer to that question is without doubt. Yes. We can be born in the wrong body.
The reductive definition of gender is so entrenched in our society that people find it hard to conceive of examples that show this… but if we were to take the definition to be something like this: If you’re a man, you have testicles, a penis, scrotum and XY chromosomes & if you’re a woman, you have ovaries, a womb, fallopian tubes, a vagina and XX chromosomes.
Defining human beings into these two uncompromising forms is, unfortunately for some, overly simplified. It ignores the SRY gene that is responsible for hormonal development before the distinctive ‘Y’ chromosome is fully formed. It ignores, for instance, the sex-determining gene DMRT1 or FOXL2 which is critical for the development of ovaries. All of which isn’t 100% specific to either body makeup.
It also ignores people that are intersex… the 1% of the population that don’t fit into either category because they have a level of each character that is lopsided. People can have intersex genitalia, for example.
And these people have always existed.
So, to state that you’re alluding to ‘biological facts’ when you can’t wholeheartedly categorise humans into ‘men’ and ‘women’ would simply be false.
Some might be thinking ach.. why are we even bothering if it is such a small percentage of people?
Honestly… I’ve been asking myself the same question.
The 5,000 people out of the 75 million on this island that have sought some form of alteration to their recognised gender do not pose as the kind of threat mainstream media outlets are telling you. It’s only now they’re finding their voice and they are merely looking for some compromise to make their life a wee bit easier.
In saying that, repeating myself from a previous article, it’s perfectly understandable that women are fearing for their safety in times such as these. Instiutionalised sexism in police forces across our country, folk like David Carrick wandering the streets abusing their authority, scare stories like that of Isla Bryson trying to force their way into women’s prisons… it’s far from a comfortable time for women.
The conversation, as a result, has become one of further safeguarding that was already in place before… but at the expense, unjustifiably in many ways, of the already-suffering Trans community.
We got here by this question that had so many politicians scratching their heads on how to answer. I would note that some culpability and ownership should be placed on them for their lack of preparation for such questioning… given how long the Trans community have been crying out for some improvements to their healthcare. A question that is so simple in its execution, anything other than a similarly simple answer has caused uproar amongst the population.
Certainly the digital population, anyway.
The skewed, over-generalisation has become a tried and tested method of dumbing down an incredibly complex phenomenon.
Don’t believe me? Ask people saying ‘Women canny have a penis’ if they know the statistics of people seeking a change in their legal recognition. Ask them if they know that just under 70% of these people start their life with female bodily organs. It is absolutely no coincidence that they are using a minority of cases to generalise the understanding of all the cases.
One might quite rightly point out that we’re talking politics here. We’re talking about practical legislation to weigh up the realities of society.
Fine… even setting aside the ignorance of lived experience of the very community we’re talking about, something that once listened to like me today with Ethan would show the generalisations are simply untrue, how on earth would this reductive understanding of sex play out in real life?
For instance, where do intersex people go to the toilet and get changed in a society where facilities are only available for people with XY chromosomes, penises and scrotums in one camp and XX chromosomes, wombs and vaginas in the other. How do they make that decision?
And just as importantly, how do we police this? Would we have government employees standing in front of each public toilet checking the genitals of anyone wishing to enter? Or would it work as a ‘mystery shopper’ scheme as you see in supermarkets, with folk going under the radar to try and catch people out?
How do we know who has a penis judging people fully clothed? How do we determine who looks ‘suspicious’ enough to be ‘at it’ so to speak? Are womanhood and manhood determined by the kind of hair you have or your body shape or what you’re wearing?
Because it is here we arrive at the very problem I talked about months ago… this reductive, simplified understanding of the human body reinforces a system of gender stereotyping that isn’t natural whatsoever. Who’s to say a transgender woman, fully transitioned with every possible medical procedure, dressed in heels and a wig and a dress is any less of a woman that has a shaved head, baggy T-shirt and Doc Martins? If we were to try and police this kind of thing we are reinforcing a misogynist ideology of ‘standards’ of what women should look like. This surely isn’t natural for modern society in 2023.
How else do we make these kinds of deductions? How is it possible to police changing rooms and toilets out of anything other than mutual respect? Do we need ID cards? How are these determined? Do we need to study the gravitation and development of each specific gene from birth for every single person just so we’re clear about what category people fit into determined by nothing other than perception? What kind of ID does the non-binary/intersex community get?
This is what I’m talking about… this is a seriously dated conversation to be having. We are undoubtedly going backwards in our search for a truly inclusive society.
The answer to the predatory behaviour of men is not to turn round to transgender people and say ‘nah yer lying’ & what you’re experiencing is an utter fabrication… or in other words, you aren't living in the wrong body.
In an age where mental health is meant to be at the forefront of our minds, what does this kind of message say to these people? Telling them everything in your lived experience is just a figment of your imagination.
I can’t help it but my mind just goes towards the kids that are self-harming. The kids with suicidal thoughts. The kids afraid to leave their own homes because of the overwhelming social anxiety.
In Ethan’s words:
The 'Untribal Podcast' with Ethan is available on any of your favourite podcast apps like Spotify, Apple and Google.
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