Some progress, but not enough: transgender people, transphobia, and employment

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

Should all children’s clothing be unisex?


Over the past few months many clothing outlets, such as Asda and Morrisons, have been criticised for their children’s clothing being sexist. With slogans printed on t-shirts such as ‘boys will be boys’ this caused outrage with some parents.

However, John Lewis has made an effort to combat this by removing some gender labels from their children’s clothing in a bid to make many of their lines unisex and gender neutral. This decision was made after consulting the campaign group ‘Let clothes be clothes’ who assured the shopping giant it was a ‘fantastic’ change.

Although, this has faced some ferocious backlash from many parents taking to twitter to express their views. Some have even stated they believe it will lead to children developing metal issues in the future; whilst others are simply threatening to boycott John Lewis entirely in the future.

Yet, with other outlets such as Clarks shoes following suit, we believe this may be something that will begin to have more common place on the high street. And frankly, we here at VinylOctopus support the decision.

Although, we’d love to hear what you think.
Let us know…

Men facing Pressure to bulk up

You really are the lucky ones aren’t you! Today we are really proud to introduce you to another brand new contributor, Amy Haggar. With her confident, informed views she makes an amazing addition to the VinylOctopus team!


You may have heard of the ‘male gaze’ theory – a term coined by feminist Laura Mulvey in 1975 – to describe the way that society views women and femininity through the lens of what would be deemed as desirable for the heterosexual male. Much research has been done into the effects of this ‘gaze’ on women in society, and how they are portrayed, but what about it’s effect on men? Whilst women have traditionally been viewed as fragile, delicate and in need of a white knight, on the other side of the coin men have been expected to be that white knight. Not all men are able to live up to this expectation placed on them, and it can be very damaging when they feel as though they fall short.

I know what you must be thinking – this is an outdated view no longer relevant, and to an extent you’re right. We now live in an age of social media and consumerism, where individuals can effectively build their own identity. This can be through the purchasing of desirable items, through following trends with their leisure time, and through creating the persona they want to portray through use of their social media profiles.

But if we’re going to build our identity through consumer activity, we need to be shown the products we can buy, right? We need to be advertised to. We can handle this in small doses, and when celebrity culture first arose we knew to a certain extent to take it with a pinch of salt. These individuals are in the business of looking beautiful, and they have time and money to get a personal trainer, a nutritionist, and a personal shopper (even a cosmetic surgeon if that’s the route they choose). Sure, we can find their stories inspirational, and look to them for health and fitness advice, but we know that we are only able to follow this to a certain point.

But what about when it isn’t in small doses anymore? What about when you live in a society where you are drowning in multi-national corporations, wanting to sell you something? You could idolize the likes of footballers when they are just playing football, because you know that’s how they ended up looking the way they do – but what about when they’re trying to sell you aftershave or a clothing brand? Advertisers are very skilled in their field, and they know that in order to get you interested in a product, they need to sell you a lifestyle. All men wear underwear. But when was the last time you saw a middle-aged man, who is a little bit flabbier round the middle and probably has a very stressful office job, posing topless in them?

You can see this in the rise of new celebrity culture too. New celebrity culture refers to the idea that young individuals can become famous, simply for appearing on reality TV shows (think Love Island, Geordie Shore and the like). These individuals are, to all extent and purposes, ‘normal’ people. That is how they are sold to us. So when we see them on social media promoting weight loss pills, protein powder and teeth whitening products they’ve used, it’s much more effective in selling us the product. You follow these people online because they were funny on TV, and you become bombarded with adverts that have been written to seem like these individuals are your friends and they are giving you advice on how they keep fit.


I’m sorry to say it, but they are not your friends. They are not sharing their bulking up ‘secret’ with you because you’re buddies, they’re being paid.

Whilst people who have grown up with social media and have seen it evolve into what it is today are often able to distinguish between the fake and the reality, younger individuals find it a little harder. Imagine going through your adolescent years again, but instead of toned and muscle-clad men being confined to movies, superhero comics and world-famous pop stars, they are in fact seemingly regular people, who are able to go to the gym every day, meal prep chicken and vegetables for the whole week, eat smoothie bowls everyday for breakfast and take millions of selfies their ‘gains’ while posing with a protein shake next to the weight trainer. All the while having the time to earn enough money to fund this lifestyle.

Herein lies the problem – people don’t post statuses about how awful their partner is, they wait until a happy moment and lead with that. People don’t post pictures of themselves when they’ve got the flu, they use edgy angles and maybe a drink in hand or a tan, and post these. What this creates is a self-made filter, where only the best bits of an individual’s life are shown.

So effectively, social media has enabled anyone to become ‘famous’, if only they have enough followers. Advertisers know the market is changing, so move their funding to this outlet. So now it’s not just David Beckham posing in a tight fitting top that you know he’s trying to sell you, it might well be the lad you used to sit next to in Maths in year nine. There is pressure on men to ‘bulk up’ in society, and whilst we think we’ve grown smart to this pressure, it still exists because it has taken on new forms; forms we are increasingly unable to avoid.


So what’s the solution? I mean, the obvious one is to try cutting down on your exposure to social media. However, this isn’t always realistic. Instead, try filling your news feed with individuals who are promoting not just a healthy lifestyle, but a healthy mindset and wellbeing. They are out there, and they are the ones we should be taking inspiration from.


Let us know what you think…

Have you ever felt the pressure to have the ‘perfect male body’?

Written by Amy Haggar

Kiss with Pride


Absolut has always held strong links the the LGBTQ community. (In fact, the first thing that springs to mind for me is their sponsorship of RuPaul’s Drag race but that probably says more about me than anything else). However, the Kiss with Pride campaign has been created not only to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, but also to spread an awareness of the 72 countries where homosexuality is still illegal.

Photographer Sam Bradly expressed his interest believing it simply to be ‘pure idea’. Additionally, although it was an advertisement campaign it also felt ‘natural and true’. This was reflected in the aims set out by Absolut to allow people to express their freedom.

The advert itself will be place in news and lifestyle magazines all over the world. However, they have also created the #kisswithpride Snapchat filter which will donate £1 to Stonewall every time it’s used.

This campaign was sparked by their short film ‘Equal Love’. Check it out below…


Transgender rights have been at the forefront of the media of late, with a lot of negative aspects surrounding equal rights. Subsequently, today here at VinylOctopus we thought we’d take a look at barriers concerning the transgender community being broken down [instead of put up].

Washington artist Cass Clemmer identifies as being transgender and non binary and recently posted a photo of ‘free bleeding’ online which sparked controversy. The image, uploaded to Instagram, depicts Cass sat on a bench bleeding through their trousers whilst holding the sign ‘periods are not just for women’ followed by the hashtag #bleedingwhiletrans.


This explores the taboo of transgender individuals menstruating and hits this particular stigma head on. In addition to this, Clemmer had created the Instagram character of ‘Toni the tampon’ which aims to tackle the issues people face understanding their bodies and to avoid the conflicts they at feel with themselves over the issue of gender.

We believe Cass is working towards addressing a really important issue here and really have to commend them. Keep up the good work!

Breaking down the walls of gender


Fashion is truly ever changing. 27 year old, professional firefighter turned model, Rain Dove is at the forefront, challenging the concept of gender through clothing. It began simply from losing a bet with a friend in which she had to go to the Calvin Klein casting call. Rain was even more surprised when she got a call back as she’d been mistaken for a man.

She explains ‘not only did the cast me for a men’s show but it was for a men’s underwear show’. Not only did she decide to do it – she decided to do it topless!

This saw the launch of her career! However,she still faced a lot of rejection for her appearance which did not clearly fit into one gender role. Rain explains how the fashion industry tried to encourage her to be ‘more like’ the gender they were aiming their campaign towards.

However, due to Rain’s size, height and dimensions she does not typically conform to traditional men’s and women’s clothing sizes. Although she also refuses to change her body proportions or shave, which has resulted in her having to turn down some high-profile jobs. Im spite of this, it clearly hasn’t affected her career too greatly as she has still worked for huge industry names such as Elle and Vogue, without compromising her own identity.

However, this definite divide in gender within fashion could be coming to an end as designers such as Burberry and Julian MacDonald are now combining men’s and women’s wear in their shows. But through this Dove expresses that gender fluidity should not be a trend or a gimmick but designers should be actively trying to break down walls.


Personally, we have to take out hat off to Rain who is truly carving a path within the fashion world so that others can follow and not face the same hostility.

Let us know what you think…
Do you think clothing will ever be entirely gender neutral?

Sex Sells

Fashion has always been at the forefront of pushing boundaries within society. However, some could debate it sometimes goes too far.


Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta of fashion brand Eckhaus Latta caused a stir with their 2017 Spring/Summer campaign. This depicted real images of couples having sex with strategically blurred out sections. Eckhaus Latta explains that they wanted to explore the connections between sexuality, relationships and fashion, whilst mirroring the age old notation that ‘sex sells’.

Furthermore, they wanted the images to look as true as possible, explaining that the sweat you see between the participants is exactly that, not oil or a camera trick, but exactly what it appears. They go on to elaborate that the only intervention they had throughout the shoot were small things, such as moving hair or an arm so the ‘sex’ could be seen clearly.

They go in to explain one of the hardest parts was finding people to take part with people struggling to see the relation to clothes.

What do you thing about their advertising campaign?
Did it grab your attention?
Would you buy their clothing?

Let us know…