Aoife Martin: The abuse endured by trans people every day shows Ireland has a long way to go

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This week, our columnist highlights the challenges faced by trans people every day.

WHEN I WAS approached to write this column, my editor and I agreed that it shouldn’t be solely about trans issues. I wanted to write about things that interested me, things that I am passionate about, things that are happening in the world around us.

Obviously being trans gives me a certain perspective. It is the prism through which I view the world and through which the world views me. It cannot but inflect the way that I see and experience things, and this is exactly what my editor wanted, a diverse voice.

I didn’t think that I would have to address a topic like transphobia so soon but here we are. 

Ireland has come a long way in a few short years. The Ireland I grew up in is almost unrecognisable from the Ireland of today. In my lifetime I have witnessed, to name but a few, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, marriage equality, the passing of the Gender Recognition Act and the repeal of the 8th Amendment.

This is a far cry from the Ireland of the ‘70s and ‘80s, an Ireland dominated by Catholic conservatism, an Ireland where the State took action against the Irish Family Planning Association for the illegal sale of condoms at the Virgin Megastore in Dublin, an Ireland where we still had Mother and Baby homes, an Ireland where, until 1982, the corporal punishment of children was socially and legally acceptable.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since then and it’s easy to think that our work is done, that we can afford to rest on our laurels but lately I’ve been reminded that that is not the case. 

Much to learn

Recently, someone walked up to a friend of mine, one of the gentlest and nicest trans women you could meet and called her a paedophile tranny to her face. Another friend had transphobic abuse hurled at her in the street as she walked to the shops.

Yet another trans woman friend was told by a taxi-driver that she should have been aborted. It’s easy to think that these are just isolated incidents, that there are always going to be bigots and arseholes, that most people are sound.

Most people might be sound, yes, but it just takes one bigot to ruin a day, one hurtful jibe to pierce your armour, an armour so carefully built up over the years. That one jibe or that whispered aside and giggle as you point out a trans person to your friend or that stare on the street can shatter a trans person’s confidence and it could be weeks before they find the courage to go out in public again. 

One of the bravest things a trans person can do is to step outside their front door. Being your authentic self often takes an immense amount of courage and I am in awe of every trans person – indeed of any LGBT+ person – that does this.

To live an authentic life, to be your true self takes courage and commitment. For people who are visibly trans, even more so. 

Transphobia

Merriam-Webster defines transphobia as an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender people.

Transphobia isn’t just something you encounter online or from random strangers on the streets. It’s institutional and it’s societal. It’s a fear of the other. We don’t like people who stand out or who are different.

We saw the same prejudice against gay people 30 years ago and we’re seeing the same thing against trans people now. We see it in the campaigns to exclude trans women from sport, from changing rooms, from bathrooms.

We only need to look to our nearest neighbour to see the effect that this is having. A recent survey from ILGA Europe showed a surge of transphobic hate crime in the UK. Of course, these people will deny that they are transphobic. They say that they’re just protecting women’s sex-based rights, that they want to keep women and girls safe.

And yes, it all sounds so reasonable. I mean, who doesn’t want to keep women and girls safe? Anyone not versed in this debate and the patriarchal language used will be taken in. It posits the lie that trans women are inherently dangerous.

But it’s a lazy man’s dream. It’s much easier to come along on your white steed and earn your lefty feminist credentials by hating trans women than by, say, campaigning against period poverty or domestic violence or abortion rights or the glass ceiling or #MeToo or any one of myriad things that women have to deal with on a daily basis.

What can you do?

I’m often asked on panels “How can I be a good trans ally?” My answer is usually the same. Stand up. Call out transphobia when you see it. March with us when we campaign for better healthcare. All the usual activist stuff.

But maybe you could also start small. If you’re a cisgender woman with a trans woman friend, make sure to include her when you’re doing things with your other female friends. Trans women are women is only an empty mantra if you don’t start including trans women in the normal run of the mill things you do with your other friends.

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The same applies to you guys out there. Invite your trans male friends when you’re hanging out or playing indoor football or darts or whatever sporty kickball thing it is that you might do. Maybe trans people are people is a much better mantra. We too suffer from the human condition. We live, we love, we grieve, we laugh, we cry, we bleed.

I was on a panel recently where a trans man said that accessing gynaecological care was difficult for men like him because often the language used is exclusionary and there can be a misunderstanding around trans bodies. There are many areas of society that trans people find it more difficult to navigate than the wider population and healthcare is just one of those. 

Being a trans ally is not just about boots on the ground or arguing with people on social media – that helps, yes – but it’s also about the small things too. Being a trans ally means including trans people in the same way you include anyone else.

There are ongoing attempts to push trans people further and further into the margins of society. This would not only be a loss for trans people, it would be a loss for you too.

Aoife Martin is a trans woman and activist. In her spare time, she likes reading, going to the cinema and practising card tricks.

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