Lockdown has been difficult for many members of the trans community, and isolation within a household not accepting to them is a living hell. Many couldn’t live openly, or suffered physical and verbal abuse; deteriorating mental health; and increased anxiety. Neither could they go out for help and support – access to community centres or a safe gathering space was denied. Walking our deserted street exposes them to assault and violence.
When JK Rowling said: ‘If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased’, it was offensive to trans people, by implying it’s impossible to change sex. I’m surprised that a writer of her calibre was linguistically ignorant in failing to understand the difference between sex and gender.
She was also conflating her experience of domestic violence with the rights of trans people. She acknowledges trans people are frequently victims of violence, yet what she said would endanger people like me. The recent sightings of right-wing male protestors in London shouting racist slogans and wearing bras gave us a clear message that the threat of violence against trans people is real, and it’s evident following her comments. That’s what privilege does to you – you become ignorant of the implications of harm that you could cause from your comments.
Yet we trans people stood alongside her when The Sun gratuitously published a front-page story that gave voice to and legitimised her abuser. We understood her pain and struggle to overcome the stigma and what’s it like to be the receiving end of abuse and violence. And we understood what’s it like to emphasise the blame on the victims, rather than the perpetrators of violence.
It’s happening, it’s relevant, and it’s affecting trans people unjustly
Tory equalities minister Liz Truss recently said the Government is rejecting ‘trans inclusive’ policies that some believe threaten women’s rights and seek to scrap proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). They will instead produce ‘new protections’ that will not allow trans women into women’s spaces. They seek to ban trans women’s existing rights to use women’s bathrooms, changing rooms, refuges and other ‘female-only’ spaces. In the NHS, rules allowing trans women to use female wards are set to be rewritten. It was full of rhetoric of hate.
The reality is that trans rights have never been a threat to single-sex spaces. Trans people have been using public toilets according to their chosen gender, trying on clothes in changing rooms and been welcomed in women refuges for a very long time. Trans women who are victims of domestic violence have been welcomed to seek refuge in women refuges since the Equality Act 2010. The numbers are very small.
There is not a shred of evidence from the judiciary, police, women’s refuges and local authorities that trans predators are invading single-sex spaces and abusing women and girls. The Government has not offered a single evidence to justify their rejection of ‘trans inclusive’ policies.
In North Carolina, USA, a law was introduced by the Republican state in 2016 that demanded that people only use toilets which corresponded to the gender stated on their birth certificate. This resulted in cis-gender women who looked masculine being harassed, humiliated and verbally abused. Trans men who has the appearance of cis-gender men were forced to use women’s toilets. In the end, the law was abolished because it was unworkable and presented difficulties to the women that it wants to protect.
There is a lot of talk recently about trans rights. Trans rights, inclusivity, diversity and intersectionality have almost become buzzwords. I make no excuses for it – it’s happening, it’s relevant, and it’s affecting trans people unjustly. We hope our allies will do more to address this inequality – we must go deeper and continue this conversation. The pain and struggle for trans people is real, and in many ways, lockdown has highlighted this. We need protection and kindness for us to lead our lives quietly.
Dr Kamilla Kamaruddin is a GP in East London and PCN clinical director in Tower Hamlets