Introducing a new contributor, Hannah Freya-Blake. Opinionated, educated and with a sharp younger she’s an incredible addition to the team.
Thanks to characters like Sophia Burset from Netflix’s own Orange is the New Black, real-life documentary show I am Jazz, and celebrity figures like Caitlyn Jenner, transgender people and their rights are becoming increasingly visible in western society.
(Left: Sophia Burset. Right: Caitlin Jenner)
Though the world still struggles to understand and tolerate diversity to the extent that most of us would like, the fact that I can go to my local M&S and be served by a transgender woman shows that equality and diversity employment laws are making some head way. Let’s face it: what you want to see on the other side of a till is a smiling person who knows how to fold knickers.
I did say some head way. We all know the gender pay gap still exists – thanks, BBC – and homophobic attacks increased significantly after the Brexit vote, alongside racist violence. Now news from the land of Stars and Stripes has reached us: no trans-people are allowed to serve in the U.S. military. Characteristic of President of the United States, the world receives an informative declaration of his ban via a Tweet:
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Much of the attention to this statement in the news and social media has been on the supposed medical costs (check out how much the US Military spends on Viagra to compare) and the notion that transgender soldiers cause ‘disruption’. What disruption? Trump seems to have sex on his brain too much, given how much he likes to grab pussy. Does he mean that the cisgender male soldiers, when they see their once male mate is now a female mate, for example, will they flounder about the military base with their trousers down?
I’m wondering if Trump’s reference to a ‘decisive’ victory is designed to connote that old concern that the trans community just can’t make up their mind. I wonder how much he’d freak if he’d heard of gender non-conformity, fluidity, or pansexuality?
We can complain about Trump for hours. But his decision does have ramifications; deemed unsuitable for a career in the army because they supposedly cost too much and disrupt the professionalism of the military, how might the trans community be seen in the wider working world?
The first obstacle is just that – to be seen. To be social and to work, to be a recognised member of the public, with a private life (in which the question of “what genitals have you got?” is not dragged out into the public). In 2007, the Trans Research team suggested that an accurate estimate of transgender people in the UK population was impossible to provide due to insubstantial and unofficial records, though there could be between 1 in 100 or 1 in 20. A decade later, there is still no administrative or Governmental analysis of the transgender population in the UK. In 2009, and reviewed again in 2016, the Equality and Human Rights Commission estimated that there are between 300,000 to 500,000 transgender people in the UK.
Yet despite anti-discriminatory laws, the UK still seems to recognise transgender people only if they have medical support. Britain still sends transwomen who have not received a Gender Recognition Certificate (an expensive pursuit) to male prisons, despite promising to review the rights of trans inmates in the wake of controversy following the assault on, and rape, of transwomen, and suicides of other transwomen, in male prisons. These problems are not exclusive to the UK; overseas, in Australia, Mary (a pseudonym) was transferred to four different jails after being attacked, raped, and denied her gender by inmates who cut her hair off and deprived her of her hormone drugs.
Medication is important to the transition process. Yet when questions of mental health become involved, this can exacerbate the stigma against transgender people. Labels like Gender Identity Disorder and Gender Dysphoria can complicate the ways in which cisgender and transphobic individuals view the trans community. If it has a label, the terms imply, it has a cure, ergo identifying as a gender contrary to the medically identified gender at birth is a state of mind that can be changed. This can be exceptionally problematic, though we can see changes to this attitude in Europe. A stand out example is the news that Denmark has decided to no longer recognise being transgender as a mental illness.
Mental health, such as depression, often prevents or hinders individuals from seeking and/or sustaining employment. Given the proportionally high rates of depression and suicidal thoughts among transgender people, gaining stable employment in the outset can be a challenge. More than half of transgender people have been found to have suicidal thoughts, while more than half of those with suicidal thoughts have attempted suicide (Nuttbrook et al, 2010…just in case you wanted to know). Much of this is considered to be a result of transphobia and related mental health stigma. How, then, can someone who suffers discrimination and battles with suicidal thoughts survive an unsupportive workplace?
Over a third of trans employees have quit their job
Last year, The Independent reported over a third of trans employees have quit their job due to workplace discrimination. The Equality Act of 2010 – which brings together the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, Race Relations Act of 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 – for all their legal jargon has not necessarily protected transgender people from experiencing discrimination, transphobia, and stigma. Lauren Mizcock, studying employment, stigma, and the mental health of transgender people in Boston, U.S., found that stigma is more likely to be internalised by transgender people who are actually in employment. Those choosing or considering to disclose their gender identity, if it is not visibly apparent, may internalise the stigma they anticipate encountering. For some, being able to anticipate stigma may become part of their coping strategy as they are careful to select employment in environments which they perceive to be more tolerant.
The very fact that transgender people feel coerced to find a workplace that will offer support, be accepting, and act against transphobia could limit career opportunities and preferences. More problematic is the question of trans sex workers. Films like The Hangover 3 help to propagate the notion that the sex industry is where transgender women, or “she-males”, most commonly work, as if the only real interest in transgender people or sexual non-conformity is down to the question of what, exactly, goes where – as if genitals or gender identity is purely a question of the body, and the body is carnal. Does the porn industry objectify and fetishize the transgender body, or does it increase awareness and acceptance?
I won’t even begin to answer such a complex question. However, I can say that the porn industry is not outside of the reach of the trans community and their politics: The International Business Times reported that Grooby, a transgender porn site, renamed their “Tranny Awards” to “The Transgender Erotic Awards” in 2013. Progress of some sort, I think.
I’m back to the notion of some. Some progress. Laws are designed to be preventative and protective, on the surface. It doesn’t, however, ensure that discrimination will be eradicated, because employment laws are not educational. The general population, I believe, hears the language of the law as a negative command – thou shalt not discriminate is easier to put into words and to enforce than the more abstract thou ought to respect all people. For me, this is where education needs to step in, so that ignorance can no longer be an excuse.
I am a cisgender, heterosexual, white female. While I can conduct research, nothing beats listening to the voices of those who are a part of the trans community. Please share your stories with us hear at VinylOctopus.
Written by Hannah Freya-Blake