For transgender people, discrimination remains an all too common part of our daily lived experiences. Despite many promising progressions towards an increasingly liberal world, many fundamental issues are currently left unaddressed.
Our identities are constantly discussed and ‘debated’ by (almost exclusively cisgender) individuals, to the extent where our very existence is questioned on an almost daily basis.
This is something that is especially prevalent in the media and online. Often, the voices of trans people are ignored, overwhelmed by the opinions of others with such people deciding what our problems are and even how our existence troubles them.
In my experience, seeing transphobia online is not an uncommon occurrence. Despite following many LGBTQ+ people on social media and trying to surround myself with positivity, there are always negative posts making jokes about trans identities.
The comment sections are normally even worse for this, which I find really disheartening. A lot of the time, the things people say come from a lack of education and general lack of awareness of trans experiences. A lot of their opinions are formed by the way that society presents us which unfortunately is very negative, despite making lots of encouraging steps forward in recent years.
A big influence on society and people’s views is, of course, the media. What I find even more upsetting and frustrating is when I see press articles that are not only critical of us but debate many parts of our existence without trying to listen to or understand us.
The news reaches a far wider audience than trans people alone ever could in our everyday lives, and these negative media ‘debates’ are shaping people’s perceptions. People all around the UK are hearing negative things about trans people, often without even ever having knowingly met a trans person in their life.
One of the most common types of press articles published about trans people is the so-called ‘bathroom debate’ about whether trans people should be allowed to use the public toilets and spaces that align to their gender identity.
Reading this constant news cycle, it could be easy to forget that we all already use the toilet that works best for us as individuals – the Equality Act already legally allows this. Reducing trans people’s existence to this ‘debate’ feels so reductive and simply exhausting.
Another frequent debate that the media loves to cover is about whether trans people should be allowed to compete in sports. Again, it’s easy to forget that – just like with cisgender people – trans people’s bodies are all different: some are taller, some have more muscle, some have among many other traits. Not every trans person competes in the Olympics, but we are all really drained by these constant ‘debates’ about our existence.
One other discussion often seen in the media is about trans children. A lot of the misconceptions come from people thinking children are too young to know they’re trans and thinking they are therefore forced into it. However, many children have a good awareness about their gender and how this is perceived in society from a very young age.
From my own experience, I didn’t realise I was trans until I was a teenager. I believe a main reason why I didn’t figure things out when I was younger was that society led me to believe that identifying differently was wrong. I was instead forced into conforming to society’s expectations for many years, often without even realising because of the lack of education about trans experiences.
Even with many trans people having similar experiences, there are still lots of people who believe that trans children are being forced into it, despite the opposite being far more common. It’s discouraging knowing that many trans children will suffer because of society’s expectations.
In my eyes, the most important thing is allowing children to be happy and comfortable, letting them know they can live a safe, thriving life as a trans person. It’s not about labelling children (some might grow up to be gender-non-conforming rather than trans anyway), but allowing them to feel free to be themselves.
Unfortunately, these ‘debates’ and heavily negative news cycles have a huge impact on the trans community. At the end of the day, we just want to be able to live our lives. We shouldn’t have to spend so much of our time fighting for basic rights and respect from other people.
When news outlets with large influences are spreading harmful messages, it only encourages the prejudice that we face in our real, everyday lives.
Education and awareness are so important in removing these stigmas and the media can be a good way of changing people’s understanding of trans people. We want to be seen as something to be celebrated, not debated.
Lucas volunteers with Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity.