When I was a lad of fifteen, unknown to me homosexuality was still a criminal offence in Scotland. That was 1980, the year of decriminalisation, although technically the law didn’t take effect until the following year, so “homosexual acts” were still illegal here until 1981. And it remained a very homophobic society even after that. As I’ve grown older, racism has gone from casual acceptance to embarrassment to unacceptability. Much more recently homophobia has, remarkably, gone the same way; just this year, our parliament (which didn’t even exist from 1707 to 1999) not only passed but overwhelmingly passed one of the most progressive marriage equality laws on Earth, at last bringing full legal equality to gay couples: the first same sex weddings are expected in October, and they will happen to widespread joy and celebration. This was supported by a majority in virtually every social sector, including our Catholic community (although, just, not among the elderly), so we have come an incredibly long way in only thirty-three years.
Bigotry and prejudice, in Scotland, are pretty much entirely criminalised now, and well on the way to becoming a thing of the past as unfathomable as slavery. But there’s one area where that still is emphatically not the case.
Not only in Scotland but across our world, transgender citizens are still looked down upon, openly and flagrantly discriminated against, assaulted, battered and murdered. Scotland’s marriage equality law has taken trans people into account and they have full marriage rights, including the availability of gender free ceremonies for all couples and the option of continuing an existing marriage while obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate.
But these are people who, while harming no one and doing nothing wrong, are pointed at, stared at, laughed at, and thrown from and refused employment for no reason other than their expression of gender. Let me illustrate with two deeply regrettable instances from my own past.
When I lived in Munich from 1996 to 2004, I spent a lot of time, like pretty much everyone there, in the U-Bahn (the subway). A couple of times I found myself on a train across the aisle from a trans woman who had a fairly masculine face. I wasn’t as educated then as I am now, and I kept looking at her, thinking “is that a man or a woman?” In reality she was clearly a trans woman and nothing about her was any of my business. That was a form of transphobia my online friend Sophia calls “cis gaze” (cis means “still living in and as your birth assigned gender”). I’m now horrified that I behaved like that, because that woman had done nothing to deserve being stared at by a stranger, once let alone the time I STILL did it when I found myself near her on a train for a second time. I am not and never have been transphobic in the sense of wishing harm or unpleasantness on trans people, but staring at an innocent passer-by due to nothing but one’s own ignorance is absolutely transphobic behaviour, akin to the nudging, pointing and whispering that used to happen if two men were seen holding hands in public, a homophobic behaviour that would rarely be seen now, and less often tolerated.
A few years later, I was working in customer service for a satellite broadcaster. A customer, Mrs. Something, phoned in to rent a movie. She gave her account password, but I was suspicious, because she had a deep, gruff, masculine voice; I refused to believe she was the customer (it “mattered” because renting movies adds costs to the account). I even called my manager over to speak to her and told the manager it was “obviously a man”. I was suspicious because she had said she was Mrs. Something and had a deep, gruff voice, but in truth it was again none of my business anyway, because she had correctly given me the account password, which entitles the caller to full account access. I was again being ignorantly transphobic: the assumption that a woman, or a man, MUST have a certain type of voice or MUST look a certain way is transphobia pure and simple.
I would nowadays never be guilty of either of those offensive attitudes, because I have learned; I have grown up, matured. There are women with deep voices (and penises) and there are men with bare chins and soft skin (and vaginas). That is reality. I write poems that neither rhyme nor scan; they are poems because I SAY they are. And people are whatever gender they say they are, and some people can be different genders at different times; and everyone should be accorded the personal pronoun (he/she/they/whatever) that they prefer, because it’s no one else’s business but theirs.
I’ve made a personal journey away from transphobia and towards accepting all my fellow humans just as they are, but society still has much of that journey to make. We’ve managed it with racism; we’re managing it with homophobia; and now it’s long past time that we grow up in our attitude towards our transgender communities. People are people, people: some are wonderful and some are arseholes, but it has nothing to do with their skin or their genitals or whether they consider themselves male or female. Has a trans person had surgery? Do they intend to? That’s entirely up to them and none of your business. Are they human and therefore deserving of the same basic respect as anyone else? One hundred per cent.
Trans people are people. They are not “trannies”, because a tranny is a forty year old radio; they are people. And people are the same, and every one of us is entitled to determine for ourselves who we are and who we will be, be we black or white, male or female, gay or straight, trans or cis.
There are no pakis or niggers, no poofs or faggots, and no trannies; there are only human beings. And if you were shocked by the first four names in that list but not by the last, have a good, long think about that. This is the next chapter in the eternal struggle for equality. You managed to stop hating gay people. It’s time to do the same for your trans brothers and sisters.