I’m leaving the UK because of transphobia.
I’m a transgender man, but I “pass”, meaning that unless I choose to disclose my transgender identity, the world reads me and treats me like a straight man. I traverse society with all the ease of any middle class, straight, white man – albeit a very short one (I’m 5’5” on a good day.) The only forum I could see this being a problem is Tinder or reaching for the top shelf in my own kitchen. I don’t face harassment on a daily basis; I don’t actually feel fear whenever I step out of my front door. No one ever challenges me when I use a toilet or go swimming. In fact, if I were to use the women’s bathroom or changing room, I would be met with fear and hostility.
Despite the ease and safety of my existence, I am in the process of trying to leave this country. Every penny of my savings and earnings has been carefully collected so that I can do this. A recent spanner in the works meant that there might be some complications with my visa, and the idea of being forced to stay here filled me with such dread that I was a sleepless ball of anxiety for three nights.
For 39 years of my life, I’ve lived in and around London. The shitty weather and the rush-hour hostility seemed like a small price to pay to live and work in one of the most diverse, tolerant and progressive places in the world. I used to travel a lot before my transition, when I was incredibly androgynous, and was met with a lot of stares and hostility abroad. I always felt a wave of relief when the plane descended over grim Heathrow or Stanstead and I saw that familiar tapestry of fields in the drizzling rain just before I touched down on home soil. I think I even kissed the ground after a particularly grizzly trip to France in 2003.
That’s not to say that I didn’t get shit in England – of course I did – but I always knew where that shit would come from. (No surprises, perhaps, that it always came from men.) Whether it was aggressive guys on a night out or a businessman on the tube, it was predictable. While it made me boil with fury, it was easy to know where it was coming from. Now it comes from the very people I’ve always assumed were allies and friends.
There was a time when TERFS (trans exclusionary radical feminists) were a fringe group, and they could be easily ignored, but the bandwagon has been joined by major celebrities and the press – both tabloid and broadsheet. I used to know where to look for bigotry, but papers that I once felt represented and protected my community, like the Guardian, are pretty much as bad as The Times and the Daily Mail. Even the Labour Party is rife with it. I was devastated to see a former performance tutor of mine post a transphobic article on Facebook, which was then “liked” by my head of department. And we’re talking about one of the most famously liberal art colleges in the country.
I have very real concerns about the future in this country for minorities in general, and the scary lack of fight against this. On a personal level, I worry about the dangerous move towards reframing transitioning as “harmful, irreversible medical intervention” – rhetoric like this leads to very real possibilities that we may be denied treatment altogether. When your happiness and confidence is based on a lifetime supply of injections from the NHS, the mere notion that this could change is too horrific to even contemplate.
Other trans people I’ve spoken to have said that they plan to leave too. A dear friend named Cassie said that she was already incredibly concerned about a year ago, and all her assertions then are coming to bear now. A trans woman from the UK was granted residency in New Zealand on exceptional humanitarian grounds after years of discrimination here. How did we come to this as a country?
I’m a writer and director, so my options are limited to English-speaking countries. As someone with a new birth certificate and the ability to choose to tell people I’m trans, I am not directly afraid of violence. It’s another story, of course, for more vulnerable members of the trans community who don’t have the luxury of passing or the means to relocate. But I do feel depressed, worn down, angry and disturbed by hearing my identity picked apart by privileged bigots dressed up as concerned liberals.
Ultimately, we all have our own way of being advocates. Mine, I’ve come to realise is through my work – even if the politics are not necessarily explicit in it, they’re most definitely there. But for my sanity and wellbeing I need to leave. I owe a massive debt of gratitude to advocates such as Paris Lees, Fox Fisher, Ugla Stefania, Alex Bertie, Juno Roche, Chris Nelson, Kate O’Donnell, Christine Burns and all the rest. These people have consistently fought to make the world a better place for the trans community, despite the enormous wave of hate that threatens to engulf them. And I will forever owe my freedoms and my happiness to those past and present who do this work. This furry little hot-head of a trans man thanks you all.
To the rest of the UK, I say this: by being silent, you fan the flames of transphobia. Real change requires courage. Every one of us knows someone who holds transphobic views. Whether it’s your friend or your favourite aunt Jennifer, do some research and come back at them with it. I guarantee as soon as you start looking into the hyperbolic rubbish they spout, you’ll see it for what it is: groundless, fact-bereft propaganda. And we only need to look at history to see the noxious ways that ‘women and children’ are used to stoke fear and hatred of minorities. Make sure you’re on the right side of history now, because our safety depends on it.
Update 30/6/20: An earlier version of this piece stated that a trans woman from the UK had been granted asylum in New Zealand. This has been corrected to state that her residency was granted on humanitarian grounds.