Emer McLysaght: When will we just leave trans people to get on with their lives?

The ‘debate’ is redundant, because you cannot deny that trans people exist

I’ve spent large portions of my life hating my body. I’ve hated it for being too big, too small, too slow, too fast. I’ve wanted to get away from it. I’ve wanted to change it and shrink it and even destroy it if that’s what it took. I’ve been a miserable woman in a miserable woman’s body. A miserable woman in a challenging female body. A woman in a female body.

I’ve never hated my body because my gender identity didn’t match my physical form. My sex at birth was deemed to be female and that’s how I’ve comfortably lived my life. I may have felt distress because I believed that my body was portraying or betraying me as something I’m not, but society has never looked at me and said “you’re XX” when I knew I was XY.

I’m not trans, non-binary or non-gender conforming and will never know how that feels. I may have bought into the diet industry’s insulting persuasion that inside every fat person there’s a thin person trying to get out, but at least my thin woman has felt comfortable in her female body every time she’s emerged. (Who am I kidding? She still thought she was fat).

Comparing body image and weight issues to gender dysphoria probably sounds facetious. I don’t mean it to. It’s just one of the ways I try to empathise with the trans community. Empathy, education, amplification – these are my responsibilities to the community and I believe they are everybody’s responsibilities.


Shock and shame

Do I think in years to come we are going to look back at how trans people have been treated, talked about, vilified, terrorised and infantilised, and feel shock and shame? Well, Ireland didn't decriminalise homosexuality until 1993. That's three years after "a nation holds its breath". When Linda Martin won the Eurovision with Why Me? being gay was still a crime. So yes, shock and shame is coming.

I try to educate myself, practice empathy and use my platform and privilege to shoulder the voice of any trans person who feels like I am on their side. The concept of “sides” is an uncomfortable one, but it exists because there are those who insist on the “trans debate”. The debate ranges from the extreme – those who deny the existence of trans people and who deny their right to assert their gender identity– to the concerned – those who worry that “confused” children and teens are ruining their lives with puberty blockers and gender fads.

There are many opinions in between and many Venn diagrams within the debate, but for me it’s all redundant. Trans people exist. They’ve existed since ancient times, although the word “transgender” was not coined until 1965.

Trans people have rights that do not impinge on anyone else’s. There is not a finite number of rights. A trans woman with a birth cert or a passport that states she is a woman is not harming you. A trans woman who says she is a woman does not erase the rights women have fought and continue to fight for. It is about inclusion, not erasure.

The ladder

Why would we not use what we have learned and gained to pull others up the ladder with us, rather than pulling up the ladder after ourselves and leaving them behind? The "debate" often focuses on safety in women-only spaces being compromised by the presence of trans women intent on causing harm and violence, and regularly descends into hysterical panic. Trans woman and activist Paris Lees has pleaded: "There's just no evidence that me being me is causing problems for any of the other women I've met. If there are ever any problems between women and trans women they should be dealt with sensitively and sensibly on a case-by-case basis. Please, for the love of God, leave us alone." There are always going to be people intent on causing harm and violence and the vast majority of them are not trans.

Concerns about young people transitioning is a healthcare issue, not a trans issue. It, like so many healthcare issues, comes with massive diversity of experience and individualised, confidential treatment. Trans people are faced with long waiting lists and substandard care, just like every other medical discipline. Do we welcome investments and advancements in care and science? Yes. Should we exclude the trans community from those investments and advancements? I struggle to imagine a cogent argument for “no”.

I’m baffled by those who engage in casual transphobia. Those who make “jokes” about “identifying” as a sausage roll. How are these minds so closed to possibilities outside the binary, when there are examples all around us in nature? We are nature. We are nature with social constructs and expectations piled on top. I am cisgender, meaning my gender identity matches my assigned sex at birth. I’m a gender conformist. I’m also white, and I’m heterosexual. In many ways I’ve won the lottery of social inclusion. I’m fat though, so maybe I got five numbers. I’m rooting for my trans siblings to get all six.