Everything you need to know about the argument over trans rights - British GQ

Everything you need to know about the argument over trans rights - British GQ
By: Transgender Posted On: May 21, 2020 View: 70

Everything you need to know about the argument over trans rights - British GQ

In the last decade, trans rights have gone from being the new civil rights movement to one of the most bitterly contested cultural divides in the Western world. The Human Rights Campaign tracked at least 26 murders of transgender people in America last year and at least eleven violent murders already in 2020. Reports have also come in from across the world of how hard it is to be trans in lockdown, while the US government refuses to let transgender men and women serve in the military. Here, in Britain, the campaign by the trans community to have the right to legally be identified as their chosen gender has turned into an argument over whether the trans community, or those using trans liberation as a smokescreen, might deduct from the legal rights of cisgender women or use this legal advance as a way of furthering hypothetical predatory behaviour.

Like any issue of equality, the argument is made harder by the fact the issues at its core are, fundamentally, personal: trans activists are brought on TV to justify their very existence and legitimise the life they live, asked questions they find uncomfortable and unpleasant, often asked to enter into arguments with people who are aggressively opposed to further rights for the trans community. This leads to anger, explosions of emotion and divides between the two sides. On one side is a marginalised community who simply want the right to identify how they want, to have their lives be easier. On the other is a group who sees potential consequences to this decision, who see this decision as one that ignores the voices of cisgender women.

Even in writing these paragraphs, there will inevitably be concessions or generalisations that will anger people on both sides. I’ve written about trans issues for years and, with all sides stalwart in their views, I wanted to bring together the voices on both sides to answer the questions the wider public might have about trans rights and see if there were any points of consensus, or a chance to bring them into dialogue here where it can be hard elsewhere.

On one side, we spoke to representatives from some of the biggest agencies for trans rights in the country. Toryn Glavin is the trans engagement manager for Stonewall, the country’s biggest LGBT charity, which has existed since 1989 and which made the move to be more inclusive of the trans rights struggle in February 2015. Jake Edwards is the communications assistant for Mermaids, a charity which focuses on providing assistance and support for children who identify as trans and their parents; though maligned by some, they have received support from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Neil Gaiman, Cher, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle among others. Ayla, a 38-year-old helicopter pilot and transwoman, spoke to us via All About Trans, an organisation which helps provide resources for media outlets on trans issues. We also received a statement from The Beaumont Society, a charity started in 1966 to offer support for transgender people, which is featured in some answers.

On the “gender critical” side, we spoke to voices from a series of agencies that are newer, smaller and predominantly online, but undeniably some of the loudest voices in the current debate. Kate Harris is the founder of the LGB Alliance, founded in October 2019, protesting Stonewall's continued inclusion of trans rights. Kiri Tunks is cofounder of Woman’s Place UK, a group, started in 2017, who are sceptical about changes to the Gender Recognition Act and have been accused of being a “trans-exclusionist hate group” in a Labour Party trans rights charter, which was controversially backed by Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Dawn Butler among others. Lynne Harne is the chair of the Lesbian Rights Alliance (LRA), started in 2017 but garnering attention in 2018 after an open letter accusing Stonewall of “harming lesbians… in promoting the trans agenda” and staging a protest at London Pride that year. Harne says they believe “trans ideology is a socially constructed invention… invented to legitimise male cross dressers’ perverse and abusive sexual practices of gynophilia” and “make feminine gay men more acceptable”. 

Below are a series of questions about gender, sex, trans rights and those who oppose them. We asked the exact same questions to every single person we spoke to, gathering their answers into what we hope is a fair discourse that provides some answers if you find the entire debate has gotten away from you.

1. Are there two biological sexes?

A fundamental question when it comes to trans rights and the one where disagreement begins. The “gender critical” side of the argument all say there are only two. “The human species has two sexes – female and male – because the human species reproduces sexually,” said Woman’s Place UK’s Kiri Tunks.

“Some supporters of gender identity theory claim that the existence of intersex people proves that sex is a spectrum. This is nonsense. First, almost all intersex people are either male or female. They have certain physical abnormalities,” added Kate Harris of the LGB Alliance. “In that sense it’s a bit like saying that since one out of 1,000 people have six fingers or toes instead of five, the number of fingers and toes is a spectrum.”

“There is sexual dimorphism of any living creature, that’s how our gametes separate, and they combine in different ways depending on the animal,” said Ayla. “But, as with anything, there are always exceptions. Trans or gender-nonconforming people have always existed at the edges. There are two ends, but there’s a whole spectrum.”

While Harris says intersex people are an abnormality rather than a sex of their own, Mermaids’ Jake Edwards argues that they are proof that there is an extremely wide spectrum of human sex. “It is a lot more common than people realise,” he said. “Chromosomes and secondary sex characteristics are on such a spectrum. Many people don’t even realise they could be classed as intersex. There are many people out there that can live their whole life never knowing.” 

2. Is gender a construct?

Almost unanimously – with some caveats – everyone agreed that the idea of gender is indeed a construct.

“Yes, it constructs femininity and masculinity as ‘fixed’ characteristics,” said Lesbian Rights Alliance chair Dr Lynne Harne. “Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for females and males,” added Kiri Tunks. “This is a restrictive social construct that is particularly oppressive to women, because, in sexist societies, the role considered appropriate for women is subordinate to men.”

“Gender is something that has been constructed, specifically in Western society,” said Jake Edwards. “It’s actually become a lot stricter in the last hundred years or so. After the war, it became more financially viable to have more than one child, so toy companies realised that you can profit off the idea of making toys specifically for girls and specifically boys. If we encourage them to buy more than one set, that creates an entire industry.”

LGB Alliance founder Kate Harris agreed that gender is a construct but added that she finds gender and sex can sometimes be used interchangeably, which she says is confusing. For her, when someone argues that they identify with a different gender than the one they were born with, “the answers always come down to old-fashioned stereotypes: whether a child prefers trucks or dolls, overalls or dresses, rough and tumble or quietly talking to friends. So it is clear that ‘gender’ is a social construct.” To her, the idea of saying you might be assigned male at birth and saying you’re female is a misunderstanding of what we perceive gender to be.

However, it’s worth noting here that Harris only provides the example of people who identify as transwomen, not those who identify as transmen. Her argument also doesn’t include those who identify as nonbinary or gender-fluid, or the group of trans people who have no interest in engaging with conventional ideas of femininity or masculinity, but instead in being something entirely outside of that.

Stonewall’s Toryn Glavin pointed out that while the ways we expect people to behave because of their gender are indeed a construct, she doesn’t think that means gender itself is a construct. “I hope it’s not, because otherwise my five years of transition were an interesting waste of time,” she said. “Whether they’re male or female, cis or trans, nonbinary or agender, everyone has an innate experience of gender and I think that’s a really important thing for a lot of people.”

3. What is ‘cisgender’ and is it a slur?

First, let’s define was cisgender is: a term, meaning “not trans”, or someone who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. It sprung up in online forums in the 1990s as a way of describing people who are not trans as something other than “normal” – like describing people who aren’t gay as straight. “In chemistry, you can have different polarities of chemicals, and one would be cis and one would be trans. Two opposing molecules, if you like,” explained Ayla. “This cis and trans pairing someone thought would be very clever, to counter and to oppose.”

The very existence of the term cisgender, however, is one that ruffles the feathers of the people on the gender-critical side. “If you support gender identity theory, you believe that everyone has a gender identity, separate from their biological sex,” said Kate Harris. “But many people don’t have a gender identity and resent any suggestion that they do. This is especially true of people who have spent their whole lives defying gender stereotypes and refusing to conform to them. They find the word ‘cis’ or ‘cisgender’ insulting. It suggests that women who have female bodies are a special sub-class of women. In fact, all women have female bodies and it is repugnant to reduce them to a sub-class of women.”

The fundamental separation of “transgender women” and “cisgender women” to people like Harris also has another problem: it suggests transwomen are less privileged than cisgender women, and to suggest that people who have lived life identifying as men are less privileged than people who have identified as women their whole lives is, to them, problematic. 

To Lynne Harne it is seen as “an insult invented by [trans activists]”, but the trans community – and cisgender people who actively identify as it, such as myself – only mean it as a way of describing non-trans people as something other than “normal”. Describing any group of people as “normal” suggests the abnormality and inferiority of the “abnormal group”, hence why we have “gay and straight” rather than “gay and normal”. 

“It’s not a slur, but often when you use it in conversation outside of those who already know, people ask, ‘What does that mean?’ You end up talking about it more than you mean to,” said Toryn Glavin. “So I use ‘not trans’. It’s never meant as a slur. I hope people never see it as one.”

4. What is a ‘terf’ and is it a slur?

Terf is an acronym that stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist”, coined on social media to refer to people who opposed trans equality but subscribe to the larger feminist movement. It is often used to describe any person – predominantly women – who demonstrate transphobic or gender-critical behaviour.

Kate Harris says that, from its original meaning, it became a term “used for women who exclude transwomen from women’s sex-protected spaces. It was soon adopted as an insult for all women who insist on the reality of biological sex.” “Whatever its origins, it is clearly now a slur designed to ostracise and intimidate,” added Kiri Tunks.

In what can be seen as a small victory considering we’re only four questions in, while defining “terf” as a slur was far from unanimous, it was universally condemned by everyone I spoke to on both sides of the argument as antagonistic to further debate.

“Sometimes it is used as a slur, because of how antagonistic and toxic the conversation has become,” said Ayla. “Personally, I choose not to use it, because the people it applies to would say they find it offensive. And if they are, then it’s not for me to say ‘no, it isn’t’. So I choose not to use the term.” Ayla prefers to use “gender critical”, a term she says the other side prefer (it was a term people I spoke to did choose to describe themselves as and so is the word we’ve chosen to use in this piece).

“I don’t think inherently the word ‘terf’ is a slur, but I do think it is used to insult people,” said Jake Edwards. “It’s kind of counterproductive to label a group of people and say, ‘You people are inherently hateful.’ Having these generalising statements creates divides that don’t need to be there and I think it’s actually a lot more helpful to just use the word ‘transphobia’.”

While Edwards said that there are probably very few people who would self-define as a terf, and that it largely exists as an insult now, the LRA’s  Dr Lynne Harne said “some of us radical lesbians do define ourselves proudly as terfs. However, on the whole, it is regarded by the gender-critical community as a slur.”

5. What is the current process in place for people wanting to transition?

There are a few different stages or types of transition. The first is a personal transition – “When you start to realise that you are trans and you start using a name for yourself,” says Jake – which often precedes a social transition, in which other people are asked to start referring to you by your chosen identity. Then there’s medically transitioning, another process entirely, in which a trans person accesses hormones or gender-reassignment surgery via the NHS or private medical services. Not all trans people will engage in a medical transition.

The big crux of the argument focuses on the legal process of transition. Currently, this is done by submitting for a Gender Recognition Certificate: the evidence, assessed by a panel who never meet the applicant, includes proof you’ve lived for two years in your chosen gender and a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria. It also costs £140 to submit.

“The Gender Recognition Act was introduced in 2004 and was a groundbreaking piece of legislation: trans rights were only coming into themselves,” explained Stonewall’s Toryn Glavin. “By 2020… I mean, look at the technology you have. Just as a phone from 2004 is outdated, that legislation doesn’t work for the modern trans community. It’s a stepping stone that overstayed its welcome.”

Firstly, the composition of the panel is an issue: “The gender recognition panel is made of bureaucrats, have no expertise in gender identity, trans identity or even gender – they’re just asked to look at the applications and, if they reject it, then there’s no means for appeal,” explained Glavin. “They are the be-all and end-all despite no expertise.”

“The process at the moment, with what it does and doesn’t do, is very bureaucratic and invasive and belittling,” agreed Ayla.

The cost is also a problem, as is the format. “It misses a lot of people, including working class and poor people, because it’s bureaucratic and they can’t engage with that,” explained Glavin. “Same as people who are new to the country. There’s a group of privileged, comfortable trans people it works for and the rest are left out in the cold.”

Proving that you’ve lived as your chosen gender for two years is, also, clear in practice but hard in theory. “When your legal documents don’t match, that’s very challenging,” said Glavin. Ayla delayed getting her certificate for years, in part because transitioning was out of the question until the UK’s same-sex marriage rights caught up with the rest of the world, allowing her and her wife at the time equal rights to when Ayla lived as the gender they were assigned as birth. “I had to send in letters from my doctor, from my surgeon – I had my surgeries overseas and then a test in the UK to make sure it had been done properly – which is hugely demeaning. Because I didn’t change because of these different surgeries.”

Ayla’s application was returned because of a lack of evidence, even though she’d been out for four years. She was told she needed to provide more evidence, but with no guidance as to where the blindspots might be: “It might be if one of your bank accounts hasn’t changed your name, or if they haven’t lived exclusively in that gender. Little things like that.” 

The two-year living test is also a requirement for the NHS before people are eligible for surgery (for hormones it’s shorter: six months to a year). “I understand why they’re there, but they’re part of a really rubbish system of belittling people,” said Ayla. “We’re imposing this trial on them during a time that’s really difficult. That’s why this process is such an ordeal for people.”

6. What would the trans community like to change about the law and society?

The primary focus of much of this argument is reform of the Gender Recognition Act, which we’ve explained in detail above. Reform and review of the GRA has, it should be noted, been supported by the majority of the women and equalities ministers our government has appointed over the past decade, including Theresa May, Nikki Morgan, Maria Miller and Justine Greening.

What would an edited Gender Recognition Act look like? Toryn Glavin explains that the system Ireland introduced in 2015 would be a great improvement: all it requires is proof you’ve been included on the register of births and that you’re 18 (or a court order has been issued to someone aged 16 or 17). Whereas our process puts the onus on a trans person to sway the system, says Glavin, “it’s within the right of the trans person to decide who they are and the state follows their lead”.

Jake Edwards also wants to see the “spousal veto” removed. “If you are married and your spouse decides that they don’t want you to change your name, or not get legal recognition as your gender, they can veto the whole process,” he explained. “So, say you’re in the process of maybe getting divorced from someone who did come out to you as an accepted you. They can stop you from being legally recognised.”

The current focus on trans rights is progress for people who identify as transmen or transwomen, but there’s still more to be done to offer support to nonbinary Brits: currently, there is no process for officially announcing you identify as neither male nor female. Toryn Glavin would also like to see the system expanded to those under 18. Others, like Lynne Harne of the Lesbian Rights Alliance, think that the current definition – someone who has lived as another gender for two years, diagnosed with gender dysphoria and over 18 – is fine as is. “The trans cult… proposes that anyone who says they are a woman is one. They use this definition to intimidate organisations into accepting it. All key organisations have been policy captured to accept self-definition, including schools and the NHS.”

It’s worth noting that, after hearing someone use a term like “trans cult”, that all this discourse surrounds something that, actually, would be a great relief for a very small group of people. “In the first 15 years of the GRA, fewer than 5,000 people had applied [for] a GRC,” added Jane Hamlin, president of major trans charity The Beaumont Society.

For Toryn Glavin, an extension of trans rights to include nonbinary people is vital. “Transmen and women can change a lot of documents, but it’s time-heavy and takes a lot of effort. For nonbinary people there’s no option for them at all,” she explained, saying that there are already territories that allow for “X” to be a marker for gender on documentation. “That doesn’t cause any issues anywhere in the world. International bodies responsible for aviation have said that ‘X’ is a perfectly acceptable market on a passport and accept it.”

For Jake, who is nonbinary, there are changes to the legal process of marriage he also wants to see reformed. While your marriage certificate will always show the gender on your birth certificate unless you get your Gender Recognition Certificate, that only changes your gender identity there if you identify as either a male or female. “As a nonbinary person, even if I got a certificate, I wouldn’t be able to be identified as the title ‘Mx’, which is a gender-neutral title, it would have to be ‘Mr’. And I would have to legally register my gender as male: I don’t have the option of picking nonbinary. So change that, please. That would be great.”

7. Can a child know if they’re trans and what medical support can and cannot be offered if they do?

Mermaids as a charity has focused on supporting trans children and their families since 1995, so let’s start with it: “People can identify as trans from a very, very early age,” explained Jake Edwards. “I’ve personally seen people as young as five or six having the idea that maybe they might be trans.” At that age, the support offered is counselling and psychotherapy through the NHS’s Tavistock clinic. “It’s not until the age of 12, when puberty might begin, where there is the chance they could be offered puberty blockers, which is basically something that just puts a pause on the natural onset of puberty until they can make a decision as to whether they want to continue their natal puberty or go on a form of hormone therapy,” explained Edwards. Hormone therapy starts at, earliest, 16 with parental consent and 18 without it. When asked what differs in the private pathway, I was told that a 12-month period of hormone blockers is not required before commencing on cross-sex hormone therapy, and, depending on circumstances, hormone therapy can be started before 16. Generally, however, I was told that the NHS age boundaries apply.

What Edwards – and other trans voices wanted to clarify here – is that there is absolutely no speedy version of these treatments. “What’s not going to happen is someone is not going to, at 12 years old, sort of suddenly come out and say, ‘Oh, I’m transgender’, go to a clinic and within a couple of months get puberty blockers or anything in a rush,” he explained. In fact, said Edwards, ten-, eleven- or 12-year-olds will approach the Tavistock clinic and by the time they get an appointment and assessment, it’s too late for them to even take puberty blockers at all. They also wouldn’t be given puberty blockers when six years old, he said, “unless for some reason they’re starting puberty, which is then called ‘precocious puberty’ and any child, trans or not, would then be prescribed puberty blockers.”

From the other side, Kiri Tunks pointed out that “referrals of children to the UK Gender Identity Development Services (GIDS) has increased by more than 4,000 per cent over the past decade. This phenomenon cannot simply be explained away as more children knowing they’re trans, as the increasing number of people detransitioning attests.” 

This statistic was one that Ayla pointed out too, saying it required more context: “When you start off with ten, even a couple of hundred is a huge percentage rise. If you look at the percentage of children under 12, it’s a minuscule number who identify as, in some way, gender nonconforming. That’s the first thing: stop using stats and percentage rises. Those shouldn’t generate what they do.”

Tunks added that three-quarters of referrals to the GIDS are people assigned female at birth and over half are same-sex attracted. “Given that many female detransitioners are lesbian or bisexual, this clearly raises the possibility that wrongful diagnosis and treatment is occurring.” The Tavistock clinic told GQ that, while sexuality is discussed with people who call GIDS and kept in their medical notes, they do not document percentages of demographics among their callers and therefore this statistic is incorrect.

I was pointed towards articles on “desisting” – the term for people who revert to the gender they were assigned at birth – by Lynne Harne, largely based off a survey of 203 people conducted across Tumblr, “Facebook groups” and a gender-critical WordPress site called 4thWaveNow. Ayla wanted to point out there are undeniably cases of people who do desist – that doesn’t take away from the people who don’t. “We try and categorise transitions as a binary thing, but I didn’t change: I just declared who I was. Transitions are only from the viewer’s perspective. You look at me and say she’s changed. But for me? I’ve been consistent, actually.”

One study that was flagged up to me, and frequently referenced, is one from 2013. A team led by Thomas Steensma of the famed Center Of Expertise On Gender Dysphoria At The VU University Medical Center Amsterdam published a follow-up of 127 patients who had attended the clinic as children. “As the Amsterdam clinic is the only gender-identity service in the Netherlands where psychological and medical treatment is offered to adolescents with GD [gender dysphoria],” said the study, “we assumed that for the 80 adolescents (56 boys and 24 girls), who did not return to the clinic, that their GD had desisted and that they no longer had a desire for gender reassignment.”

The word “assumed” there is very important: simply presuming that someone who didn’t return had desisted is a very big leap of judgment, even though some people do. Subjects could have simply moved doctors, repressed their identity due to harassment or maybe even ended their own lives. Ayla argued that this is a “fundamentally flawed” piece of research that has been refuted many times. “It’s the equivalent of a dentist who assumes that if patients stop coming back, that means that they’re no longer getting cavities,” argued Jesse Singal in a very thorough article about the study. 

8. Could trans people pose a threat to me?

“I think that what it boils down to is that no community, no group of people, no minority can say that they are void of people that are bad,” said Jake Edwards from Mermaids. “A trans identity is not something to be feared and it’s not something that means you are inherently dangerous, wrong, broken, weird, mentally unwell.” 

“The vast majority of trans people are simply trying to get on with their lives and don’t pose any more of a threat than anyone else,” said the LGB Alliance’s Kate Harris. Kiri Tunks agreed: “We don’t believe a person’s trans status is relevant to the level of threat they pose, especially given that both men and women may identify as transgender.”

For Harris, the problem is not the trans community but rather the approach of those campaigning for trans rights, which she calls “the trans lobby” – those who campaign for changes that Harris sees as “extremely hostile to women” and that result in “many trans people suffering from the backlash”.

For Tunks and Harne, the problem is transwomen being in spaces – like prisons and refuges – that are currently divvied up by gender. “There is no evidence to suggest that men who identify as trans pose any more or any less of a threat to women than other men,” Tunks said. “What evidence does suggest is that transwomen offend at rates comparable to men (who do not identify as trans).” The study in question is by Dhejne et al (2011). In a cohort of 324 trans people, the researchers say “male-to-females ... retained a male pattern regarding criminality. The same was true regarding violent crime.” 

It’s worth noting here that the Gender Recognition Act, and the aforementioned reforms thereof, do not allow trans people increased access to gender-segregated spaces. That is part of the Equality Act and these are “two different pieces of legislation introduced six years apart”, explained Toryn Glavin. “The GRA, if it’s reformed, will not do anything new. It will make a system that’s existed for 16 years easier to access. It won’t have any impact on anyone other than trans people.”

All the problems in relation to having transwomen, or men masquerading as transwomen, in women’s prisons or refuges would only even begin to happen if the 2010 Equality Act was changed. While “gender reassignment” is a protected quality under the Act, there is also the clarification that “providers of separate or single-sex services” are allowed to “provide a different service to, or to exclude, someone who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment”. Which is to say: a transwoman can be excluded from a single-sex service, but it has to be on a case-by-case basis, rather than a blanket ban.

9. Could people pretending to be trans pose a threat to me?

The gender-critical perspective on this issue is perhaps best summed up here by Kate Harris: “It is one thing to say that a male who has undergone medical and surgical changes should be able to live in most social situations ‘as a woman’. It is quite another thing to say that someone born male should be allowed to take part in women’s sport, access women’s rape shelters, be placed in women’s hospital wards and prisons, and counted as female in crime and other statistics. There are plenty of arguments to be made against all these proposals.”

“Even if the government’s proposed reforms did go ahead, there would still be a bureaucratic procedure to go through. I think it’s unlikely that violent men wishing to cause trouble would go through those procedures,” explained The Beaumont Society president Jane Hamlin. “Anyway, violent women can be excluded from such safe spaces (for example, to protect a lesbian seeking refuge from a violent partner).”

One final thing to note is that, while self-identification does make the process of identification easier, it does not make the lived experience of being a trans person any easier – and that’s a big load for anyone to take on simply to be a predator. “If a cisman wanted to breach the safety of a women-only space, they’re not going to go to the effort of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate. That’s traceable: it puts them on a list with their details and they can be found,” said Toryn Glavin. “They’re much more likely to just enter that space. Trans rights don’t give people the right to be abusive in any way.”

10. Why are some people opposed to the trans community?

Let us start with the gender-critical voices themselves: “Men cannot be women,” said Lynne Harne. “As lesbians we deny male access to our bodies and it is this lack of access that these men cannot stand.” Harne, and the LRA, are also concerned that “trans ideology was erasing lesbians by telling us we are really men born in the wrong body if we prefer to have relationships with our own sex”: a belief nobody on the side of trans rights that I spoke to held. 

Kate Harris stresses that her issue is not with everybody who identifies as trans. “There are arguments about whether it should be lawful to give puberty blockers to children and allow young people to take cross-sex hormones and undergo surgery. There are arguments about the extent to which transwomen should be lawfully regarded as women in society. Above all, there are arguments about the concerted attempts by trans activists to try to stop us debating all these issues in a civilised, fact-based way,” she explained. 

Ayla said that “90 per cent of it is fearmongering that sounds plausible. We all like a conspiracy theory and if someone is telling you a group of people is dangerous, and you don’t know any different, I can understand why people would buy into it sometimes.”

“It’s a lot to take on board, because it is challenging,” agreed Jake Edwards. “If people don’t have the right access to education and they’re not hearing it in a way that resonates with them, told to them in a way they understand, then the easiest thing for the human brain to do is leap to fear.”

11. Why are people angry about criticism of the trans community?

“I think the anger comes from feeling like you’re ready for change and you’ve done your bit to make the change happen, but it’s still not happening,” explained Jake Edwards. “It can get quite tiring, but it’s the same thing we’re expecting from the other side: to not let fear and sadness turn into anger and hate.”

Kate Harris of the LGB Alliance said that it’s incorrect to think of trans people as among the most vulnerable people in society. “They quote bogus suicide statistics and believe that this whole debate is about the difference between, on the one hand, people who are kind, compassionate and inclusive, and on the other, people (mostly women) with old-fashioned ideas.” Harris said that the debate is “governed by strong emotions instead of a willingness to listen”. 

Jake Edwards didn’t entirely disagree. “Equal rights is no longer achieved through getting angry. It’s about staying as calm as possible. The moment you show anger is the moment people say you’re hysterical.” 

On the subject of those “bogus suicide statistics” Kate Harris mentioned, one of the most common statistics I’ve seen quoted, and have used in my own reporting on the issue before, is that 46 per cent of trans people, according to Stonewall’s 2018 report in collaboration with YouGov, have thought about taking their own life. Other Stonewall reports have listed high rates of abuse in relationships, discrimination from medical services and problems in the workplace for those trans people surveyed. 

12. I’ve read this piece and I still have genuine questions about people being trans. Am I a bad person?

“Oh, my God, no!” exclaimed Toryn Glavin when I asked her this question. “You’re seeing an argument play out in front of you and you don’t know who to support. It’s irresponsible to have this conversation in such a public way, but that is what is happening.”

“Genuine questions are entirely reasonable but should be asked in good faith and with respect,” said Kiri Tunks. “We believe that open and respectful dialogue is the only way to address the concerns and questions people have and to ensure that everyone’s rights are upheld.”

“I’d always encourage people to ask questions; find out. Don’t invade people’s privacy, but there are ways to ask questions if you’re interested,” added Ayla.

“The position of LGB Alliance is that all people should be treated with respect and dignity,” concluded Kate Harris. “But we do not believe children should be medicalised because they get the mistaken idea that they were ‘born in the wrong body’ and we do not believe that people can actually change sex.”

“I hear a sentence like [this question] and I feel genuinely excited, relieved and happy,” said Jake. “This is someone on the start of their journey and they want to ask questions. Even if those questions are asked in... not the best way, or come across as offensive to some, as long as they’re asking them to the right people, and finding the right resources, it’s great to have questions.”

And so, at the end, a sort of odd agreement: nobody expects you to know everything and have all the answers. Everybody wants to have a conversation about it. If something concerns you or interests you, there are a lot of resources out there: YouTube videos, academic articles, journalism in fact. If you’ve come here, read this piece and still have questions, there are charities and services that will happily answer questions. If you have questions about someone in your life who has come out as trans or nonbinary, then you can even call an LGBTQ+ helpline such as Switchboard, which offers support to people adjacent to the queer community as well to those who are a part of it. 

“Humans just want people to get on well. This is manufactured,” said Glavin. “I think in 40 years, maybe 30, we’ll be looking at history books describing my contemporaries and my peers as freedom fighters. I look forward to reading it.”

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