Unacceptably Free

London Pride, July 2010

There is something problematic about collapsing all non-cis gendered and trans people together, as a single phenomenon. Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe strongly in solidarity, people fighting alongside each other and advocating for each other. Not just splitting into groups, and fighting only for what personally affects us in our own lives.

However, I have met and know trans people who do not want to appear as trans in any way, who want to “pass” and be socially accepted as cis gendered.

I also know many people like myself, who identify as gender queer/fluid or non-binary, who don’t “pass” and don’t want to, who are at their most comfortable when they don’t fit into the categories of male, female or trans. And then, of course, there is everyone one who is in between these two.

I will admit I come from a more socially accepting London bubble, where discussions about differences such as these can be afforded. However as I see it people who want to “pass” are fighting a slightly different issue to those who don’t. It’s the right to be seen as a socially ‘acceptable’ gender, as opposed to the right to be accepted as something that currently is not even considered a possibility by 99% of society.

While these things are in some ways the same thing, gender, as a fluid construct, or the existence of gender as a spectrum, is not acknowledged within UK law, medicine and most of society. As I see it, part of my struggle is to transform the spectrum of ‘socially acceptable’ genders.

Due to UK press and media initiatives in the last 5 years , people are more aware of the existence of the trans community and some of the barriers they face. Yet I have met many people whom are not traditionally transphobic, but also cannot accept the possibility of there being more than just male and female. And in part, the UK press can be held accountable for this.

Nearly all portrayals of trans people in the media are about someone trying to transition into a traditional gender role. I am not saying this as a judgment of the people represented by these media narratives. It is also very important to acknowledge that there is a lot of transphobia in the UK and living as a transgendered person is by no means easy.

2013 Rally for Transgender Equality.
2013 Rally for Transgender Equality.

But I also want to acknowledge the pressure this kind of media story adds to the pressure on those that are currently even less socially acceptable. There is no other public and highly visible source of information, or way of telling the story, and so social ideas about gender remain largely ignorant of the experiences of gender non-binary, or gender fluid people.

Press for Change recognises that it is fighting for all trans and gender- variant people. But (from what I could find on their websites) organisations such as All About Trans and support groups such as the Beaumont Society don’t even acknowledge the existence of something outside of “transgendered, transsexual and cross-dressing communities”, as the Beaumont society puts it. I don’t mean this as a criticism of their existence. I think they are, or have the potential, to be valuable resources for the most part. But this lack of recognition shows rigidity of gender roles in our society, even amongst trans organisations and sometimes communities.

This rigidity is for many also complicated by the assumption that sexuality and gender within the individual are mutually exclusive! Stereotypes, such as that someone perceived as a more masculine women must be a “dyke” and someone perceived as a feminine man must be a “poof” are still commonly upheld outside, and sometimes inside, LGBTQAI communities. The pressure on all non-cis and trans people to be something socially acceptable is huge. Courage to live your life as something that is not, in whatever form it takes, I find more admirable.

I am not advocating a divide of any kind within trans’, gender queer, gender fluid, non-binary communities. But I think we need to get ourselves out there, organise, make ourselves more visible and find solidarity and strength in each other, in order to start challenging misconceptions and prejudice both publicly and privately. Change and acceptance does not happen on its own.

Photographs courtesy of Peter O’Connor, and Ted Eytan. Published under a Creative Commons license.