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Shon Faye on Practical Changes to Help Trans People

Posted on 7th September 2021 by Mark Skinner

Calling for greater harmony between marginalised people to effect enduring change, Shon Faye's The Transgender Issue is a passionate yet nuanced contribution to an ongoing debate. In this exclusive piece, Shon highlights small, practical changes that can be made to improve the lives of trans people.  

I started to tell people I was trans in 2015. It felt safer to do so because of an explosion in cultural recognition and visibility. In the US, actress Laverne Cox had been on the cover of TIME magazine, Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness was a New York Times Bestseller. In the UK, writer and journalist Paris Lees had appeared on Question Time and Riley Carter-Millington became the first trans man to play a trans character in British soap history when he was cast in EastEnders. The largest gay, lesbian and bi charity in Europe, Stonewall, began to campaign on matters of trans equality too. It seemed like perhaps, after decades of tabloid ridicule, television sensationalism and social exclusion, the conversation around trans lives was changing for the better.

In many ways – it was and it has. Yet the progress of civil rights and liberation movements is rarely linear. Minority groups fighting for equality have, throughout history, often taken two steps forward and one step back. In Britain, as more and more trans people started to be open about their identities and to demand equality they were met with a backlash and a consensus in large parts of the media that they were a nuisance at best, possibly even a threat at worst. As they came out younger, schools were not equipped to include and protect trans children from discrimination and bullying, an ageing trans population were anxious about going into care homes that misunderstood them, trans youth homelessness was increasing and access to healthcare was getting worse and worse with rapidly escalating waiting lists and no plans to bring them under control.

Some of the issues of discrimination facing trans people that I lay out in my book are systemic and affect many vulnerable people forced to the margins of society. In some cases, the changes I suggest we need to see are radical ones that would require a dramatic shift in the way we choose to organise our society and think about social justice. However, there are some very easy and practical changes many of us could be making in our own spheres of influence and communities which would vastly improve the lives of trans people in the here and now without a more profound social revolution.

We need to do better to protect trans children. All of us have a role in this, whether parents, teachers, governors, youth workers or campaigners. When 64% of trans pupils in British schools say they are bullied for being LGBT and around half never tell anyone about the bullying we need to accept that we are failing in our duty to these kids. Promoting inclusion guidelines for trans kids at school –many of which have been attacked by the right wing press in recent years – or having a robust anti-bullying policy are vital. Children learn prejudice when adults remain bystanders and it doesn’t have to be this way. We should be encouraging trans and other LGBT kids to be themselves at school and even to self-organise into LGBTQ social clubs and societies where possible so they they feel less alone and more able to advocate for their own needs.

In healthcare settings, the NHS and its staff could recognise the inequality and stigma trans people have endured in getting medical care of all kinds for far too long. Better access to community counselling services, better training for NHS staff on trans identities and how to respect them in professional contexts and a less judgemental approach to trans people in matters of mental and sexual health with consideration of how and when to signpost to specialist services would hugely improve trans health.

Greater solidarity from LGBTQ+ people who are not trans to those who are has been one of the positives of recent years but this has further to go. Gay, lesbian and bi people have themselves seen a rise in public violence and media hostility in the past few years but they are a larger demographic with more understanding and acceptance from many liberal people and it is vital that they continue to learn more about the reality facing trans people – one in four trans people have experienced  homelessness for example - and incorporate this into their own politics. One practical example of how this might work is for LGBTQ+ venues and groups to consider promoting and fundraising for charities like akt and Stonewall Housing or for younger organisations like The Outside Project in London which aim to provide housing to homeless queer people, among whom trans people (particularly trans people of colour) are vastly overrepresented.

We are an ageing population and many trans people find themselves especially isolated as they age. This is because of social stigma and lack of traditional family arrangements – half of trans older people who do have children have no contact with them. In both community settings and care homes trans older people can feel vulnerable, rejected and alone. Yet even offering to drive such a person to a local trans social meet-up or care home staff thinking about how to bring principles of diversity and inclusion into their work could provide urgent and necessary change.

The suggestions I mention here are far from exhaustive and many of them would likely benefit people who aren’t trans as well. But I hope they may prompt you to consider your own work, community or daily life and think about how you could make it more beneficial, kind and welcoming to transgender people. I hope you will also read my book and join us in the fight for full liberation too, but I accept we all have to start small.

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