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Seeking Solace from Within: Being Trans in 2023

The trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming community has been under attack from every institution in a country which is already struggling with post-Brexit and post-pandemic recovery. The UK is also currently facing a cost-of-living crisis which has meant that millions across the country are struggling to get by. The impact of this has meant that more people are reliant on the NHS, as demand for mental health services has outpaced capabilities which has led to lengthy waiting lists. There is a higher prevalence of mental ill health and homelessness in the trans community, which is exacerbated by the lengthy waiting lists to get gender affirming care, which in some cases exceeds 5 years to get a first appointment. Despite the effort that many activists and voluntary sector organisations have been creating trans-inclusive and trans-led spaces, in 2023 there has been a shift within trans organising communities. A shift which now sees the trans community looking intersectionally inwards for support. This is a reaction from the hostile nature brought about by the government which has been failing the trans community by publicly platforming transphobia and erasing trans identities throughout 2023. 


The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s comments at the annual Conservative Party Conference in October 2023 are a testament to this failure, where he said that the British Public ‘shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be’ and that ‘a man is a man and a woman is a woman. That’s just common sense’. These comments were made on the stage, addressing the conference and the public. This weaponising rhetoric and divisive language was carefully planned. These remarks were repeated on social media by Rishi throughout December 2023, and follows on from Rishi mocking trans people in a video released in June 2023. Rishi isn’t the only Conservative Member of Parliament to attack the trans community recently, as former Prime Minister Liz Truss said ‘trans women are not women’ in the Conservative Party Leadership Hustings in August 2022, and more recently in December 2023 the Minister for Women and Equalities Kemi Badenoch said that gender-affirming care is a ‘form of conversion therapy’. This antagonistic comparison is divisive, as LGBT+ activists have been lobbying the government a ban on conversion therapy for years. Conversion therapy is a traumatic and dangerous practise which seeks to change the sexual orientation and gender identity of LGBT+ youth to fit the cisheteronormative framework which the Conservative Party is seeking to maintain. 


These realisations are nothing new for the government, as there has been both stagnation as well as reversing of trans rights in the UK over the last few years. No reforms were implemented after the Gender Recognition Act Reform Consultation in 2018 despite the majority of respondents wanting reforms. The government blocked the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform bill in 2023 which would have progressed trans self-determination in Scotland. There was also consideration by the Conservative-led Equalities and Human Rights Commission to try and redefine ‘sex’ within the Equality Act to refer specifically to sex assigned at birth, which in effect would ban trans people from single-sex spaces. All of these legal actions and considerations show why in recent years the UK has consistently decreased its safety scores of the annual European-wide LGBT+ safety rankings, from 1st place in 2015 down to 17th place in 2023. The purported ‘culture war’ propagated by the government as a means to an end has meant that platforms like Rishi’s are left unchecked for transphobia which means that the culture war is more likely to become a reality.


The consistent, ongoing public attack on the trans community shows that the government is encouraging another ‘culture war’. This is because the Conservative Party has been trying to strengthen and legitimatise their waning majority in the House of Commons and have been appeasing the right-wing elements of the party and the public, leading to the implementation of Brexit, anti-migrant legislation such as the Illegal Migration Bill, and anti-protest legislation such as the Public Order Bill. These pieces of legislation are hindering the rights of trans activists who lobby and take action for change. This instils even more mistrust in policing and the wider justice system in the UK, of which policing has already come under criticism for being institutionally transphobic and racist as well as utilising legitimised violence as a means to control the population.


The populist ideals propped up by the government have also been voiced in the public domain many times in 2023, as the far right has seen a resurgence in the UK. The fragmentation of the far right has been a prominent feature as failed racist and transphobic rallies usually only attract a handful of opportunistic fascists, who always face opposition by coalitions of progressive organisations and individuals which are manyfold more in people. Despite the successes of deplatforming the far right, the sustained presence of many of its advocates show how wider society is tolerant of them as it is perceived under the guise of populism.


There is also a problem with mainstream media and its consistent negative portrayals of trans people. This shows that the media is not immune from being part of the political discourse and feeds into both the governments and the far right’s gender critical rhetoric. An overwhelming majority of mainstream media articles pertaining to the trans community are a negative perception. This is due to the mainstream media prioritising clickbait to increase readership and profits, rather than to tell authentic, diverse stories about the trans community. Smaller, local, and radical media outlets do platform authentic trans stories, but the owners of the mainstream media hold the power, and finances, to continue with their own agenda at the cost of grassroots media outlets.


Even progressive spaces are not safe from transphobia and ‘culture war’ politics. Vocal Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) such as Posie Parker have rallied across the anglophone world, in an attempt to impose gender critical views within the feminist movement. This is parallel and linked with Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFs) who deny that women have the bodily autonomy to have agency over their own bodies. However, feminism is inherently trans-inclusive and many feminist organisations have upheld inclusivity within the cause for women’s liberation to be trans and sex worker inclusive. Similar platforms are given to transphobic discussion within leftist politics as well as academia, with the latter often being under the guise of freedom of speech. Despite not being representative of the wider movements, it is often the most vocal of platforms which get attention, and gender critical platforms are often vocal. This creates an adversarial atmosphere within these spaces making them inaccessible and exclusive, which in effect erases trans voices.


The effects of transphobic and gender critical rhetoric have already been seen, as Stonewall has found out that reported hate crimes based on gender identity has increased by 186% in the last 5 years. Violence, harassment, and discrimination against the trans community is endemic in the UK, with microaggressions often being left unchecked. Remembrance days such as Trans Day of Remembrance are held every year, where the trans community remembers the lives of the hundreds of trans people are murdered in transphobic related attacks each year. The intersections within the trans community are often recipients of violence and discrimination on the grounds of racism or ableism. Other intersectional identities are often erased due to malice or ignorance, such as being intersex or indigenous. The reality for the trans community is often targeted and tokenised, and there is a growing perception that trans allies are failing the community, by not holding to account those which are elected to represent us.


The culmination of all of these happenstances has resulted in an exponential creation of trans organisations, led by trans people and for trans people, since the pandemic and even more so in 2023. This is because allies are increasingly being perceived as letting down the trans community by not holding to account the people who broadcast transphobia, discrimination, and hate-speech. These trans for trans organisations create the niches needed for the trans community, which include safe community spaces, direct action organising, intracommunity dialogue facilitation, and coalition building. The introspection happening during this process enables collective understanding of the diversity within the community, and collective compassion as so many institutions in the UK have lost the trust of the community. Every person in the trans community is human, and we all deserve compassion and love.


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Adam is a non-binary, neurodivergent social activist and community leader. Since graduating from University, Adam has been exploring different methods marginalised people can express feelings, experiences, and stories. Poetry has been one of these methods.

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Thank you for providing an authentic take on issues that trans people are facing. We need more trans people to highlight these issues and tell their truths! Thank you!

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