Congleton Pride would like to dispel some of the myths about trans people. The term ‘trans’ can refer to anyone whose gender identity does not completely match the sex they were assigned at birth. The word ‘cis’ describes people who are not trans, that is whose gender identity does match the sex they were assigned at birth.
According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 84% of people in the UK say they have ‘no prejudice’ towards trans people. Trans people make up less than 1% of the population and many are not ‘out’; therefore, a lot of people will never knowingly have met someone who is trans, and rely on the national media and social media for information.
Unfortunately, the discussion about trans people in the media is polarised and often toxic and ill-informed. National media owners and editors are mostly heterosexual white men. It is perhaps not surprising that, as well sexism, homophobia and other prejudice, transphobia is evident in their publications.
Congleton Pride has many members and friends who are trans people, and we thought it might be helpful to deal with some of the myths, in order to enhance understanding, kindness and inclusion.
What follows is from our own experience and understanding, in many cases based on lifetime personal experience and/or cited research.
Myth 1: Biological sex is absolute, and binary. We are all either 100% male or female
Scientists have recently discovered that this is not true. Sex was traditionally determined by biologists by the presence or absence of a Y chromosome, but recently doctors have discovered women, including pregnant ones, who have Y chromosomes, and humans exist with XXY, XYY, XXX and many other combinations, as well as the usual XX and XY combination.
Furthermore, people have been known to develop gonads that do not ‘match’ their chromosomes, so someone with XY genetics might have female body parts and someone with XX have male. The vast majority of people have XX or XY chromosomes and bodies that ‘match’ them in the traditional sense, but some people have a combination of both bodies, and researchers now estimate that up to 1 per cent of people have some sort of ‘intersex’ feature, although many may not realise it.*
Myth 2: Trans people have decided they want to be the opposite sex
Trans people do not wake up one morning and think ‘I’ll be a man/woman today’. It is now widely regarded that gender identity, whether it matches the sex assigned at birth or not, is innate and based on neurobiological factors.***
Many trans people have always known that their gender identity does not match the gender that doctors, parents and society has assigned them at birth, based on their body. For some, this realisation develops gradually over time. Often for trans people the feeling that they are in the ‘wrong’ body is debilitating and makes them very unhappy. Studies show that, in the UK, 94% of trans gender young people have thought about taking their own life, and 45% have attempted to.**
Often when they are children, trans people do not know how to express these feelings, and it is only when they get older and realise that there are others like themselves in the world, that they can make sense of how they have felt all their life. Only when they have come ‘out’ and acknowledged to themselves and the world ‘who I am’ do they start to feel at peace with the world.
Myth 3: Trans people and their supporters say that biological sex does not matter
Whilst a trans person may live their life identifying as a gender different to that they were assigned at birth, this does not mean that they routinely ignore the realities of physical biology. Some ‘gender-critical’ or ‘sex not gender’ campaigners might say this, but in general, trans people are acutely aware of biology. For example, a trans woman is well aware that she is different to cis women who menstruate, bear children and experience the menopause.
In most of day-to-day life biology is not important, but of course in a healthcare setting or when collecting demographic information, it can be essential to capture biological sex so that appropriate services can be delivered.
Myth 4: Trans supporters claim that sex and gender are the same thing
This is not true. We know, as described, that both biological sex and gender identity are complex and are certainly not the same thing. We believe that people should be treated with respect whoever they are, and should be called by the appropriate pronouns to match their gender identity. To ‘misgender’ a trans woman by calling her a man is transphobic and hateful, regardless of whether she has had gender reassignment surgery.
Of course some people are gender-fluid, pangender or non-binary, and some are physically intersex. Unfortunately, they are completely ignored by current legislation, but we should still treat them with respect and ask what pronouns they prefer to use. (We may publish a future Mythbuster about non-binary people.)
Myth 5: Trans supporters want everything to be ‘gender-neutral’
It is certainly true that perceived gender impacts how we are treated and the opportunities we have in life. For example, in a recent experiment, one-year-old boys and girls were dressed in clothes matching the ‘other’ gender, and childcare workers treated them completely differently, offering the girls construction and transport toys and the boys dolls and ‘caring’ toys.
From an early age we are burdened with gender stereotypes, and this creates inequalities and sexism that women in particular experience throughout their lives. If we took a more ‘gender neutral’ approach and removed expectations based on gender, we would have a more equal and inclusive society.
But it is not true that everything should be ‘gender neutral’. For example, we believe that most women would not want to share public toilets or a hospital ward with men (and vice-versa), and they should have gender-specific spaces.
Gender neutral facilities are also important, for people who are not comfortable using male or female facilities, for example, if gender-fluid, if trans and not ‘out’, or if a caregiver of a person of a different gender.
Everyone should be comfortable and permitted to use the facilities that match their gender identity. At our Pride social events, the trans women queue in the female loos with the cis women and everyone is perfectly happy. It is no big deal.
Myth 6: Trans ‘conversion therapy’ is acceptable
As we have said, to call a trans women a man or a trans man a women is transphobic. As well as mental health problems and suicidal thoughts, trans people often face other challenges. For example, 64% of trans youngsters are bullied at school, with 10% receiving death threats from other pupils.**
For someone who has striven all their life to become the person they know they were born to be, to be told by a ‘therapist’ that they are not that person, that their existence is ‘wrong’, is abusive and should never be allowed.
Myth 7: Feminists don’t like trans women
Feminists believe in political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; everyone at Congleton Pride is a feminist!
Some people who claim to be ‘feminists’ say that trans women are really men trying to ‘invade’ women’s spaces and undermine women or reduce the rights of ‘real women’. This is not based on evidence. No-one would go through the pain of coming out as trans in order to do this. In our observation, our patriarchal society has been doing a pretty good job of discriminating against women for years, without needing the help of trans women or anyone else. (see also Myth 8)
Remember the sexist and transphobic national media? What a great outcome for them to stoke up arguments that will get women fighting against trans women and vice versa, instead of together trying to dismantle the patriarchy!
True feminists support all women, including trans women.
Myth 8: Trans women are inherently dangerous, especially to women
This one reminds us of how gay men were treated in the 1950s and 60s – when Alan Turing and many others were persecuted, locked up and forcibly medicalised due to their sexuality and the perceived ‘threat’ they posed to society.
Of course, society now recognises that this was completely cruel and unacceptable, and pardons and apologies have been made, and no-one would treat gay people like this today.
But trans people are less visible and perhaps less understood, so if you don’t know someone who is trans it can be easy to jump onto stereotypes that are perpetrated by the media, and see them as ‘other’ or ‘abnormal’, then it is not a big step to feel fear of the unknown.
As we have said, trans women should use women’s spaces. The Equalities Act 2010 does allow for ‘exceptions’ where there is a ‘reasonable’ assessment of risk. So, for example, a provider of domestic abuse services could potentially exclude certain people, including a trans woman, from a refuge or other service, if other service users might be traumatised (it is said that some victims, including children, can suffer trauma if in the same room as someone they perceive to be a man). This should not be a ‘blanket’ rule but based on individual risk assessment.
Cheshire has some of the best domestic abuse services in the country. We asked our local service provider, who provides services to everyone, female, male, trans and non-binary, if they had ever had to exclude a trans woman due to perceived risk or risk of trauma. The answer was no. “The women in our service are concerned about escape, about their children, about their finances and their future family home, they don’t care about political debates or what genitalia anyone in their support group may have.”
Some people raise the question of trans women in women’s prisons, and scour the world to find an example of a trans woman sexually assaulting another woman in prison. We have news for them: prisons are full of criminals. Violent crime, including sexual assault is, sadly, all too common in the majority of them. Trans people are normal people and could become criminals like anyone else. This does not make them more dangerous or more likely to assault others than anyone else.
Indeed, if we want to look at demographics and identify the most dangerous and violent group of people to watch out for, we might consider that 99% of rapes and more than 93% of murders are in fact committed by men. Not all men are violent of course, but almost all violent people are men.
So the idea of putting trans women into men’s prisons is highly dangerous.
Violent men often disguise themselves – as good husbands/fathers/boyfriends, as respectable businessmen, maybe sometimes as women. A violent man in a dress is a criminal. To imply that trans women are violent because of the behaviour of these men is transphobic and wrong.
Trans women and trans men are overwhelmingly victims, not perpetrators, of violence.
Congleton Pride is delighted that Congleton is a White Ribbon Town and therefore challenges the toxic masculinity that leads to both violence against women and violence against LGBTQI+ people. If we want to address the most dangerous people in our society, Pride invites all men to stand up and become White Ribbon Ambassadors.
Myth 9: All trans people are activists trying roll back women’s rights
This is similar to Myth 8 and is portrayed a good deal by the media. Congleton Pride has no time for so-called trans ‘activists’ who shout abuse at women’s groups or picket women’s meetings. Equally, we have no time for ‘gender-critical’ so-called ‘feminists’ who seek to exclude or discriminate against trans people, or state that trans women are men. But to characterise the majority of people to be sympathetic to these extremists is not only inaccurate it is irresponsible and dangerous, because it stokes division and encourages mistrust and abuse.
Myth 10: Talking to children about being trans is wrong and potentially harmful
It has been shown that the opposite is true. Timely and appropriate access to advice, support and healthcare has been shown to reduce suicidal thoughts and improve outcomes for young trans people.***
Our trans members have said that, as children, they saw no trans people in books, on children’s TV programmes or other children’s media. This led them to believe they were the only person in the world feeling as they did, and this was a very lonely place to be.
Congleton Pride is not going to give medical advice, but we are certain that allowing young people to see role models, express themselves, speak openly about their own inner thoughts and concerns about gender, live in the gender identity that fits them and access appropriate mental and physical healthcare is essential in order for them to thrive.
This also requires creating an environment in the home, in clubs at school and college that is inclusive and accepting, and practising a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and bullying.
Congleton Pride does not pretend to have all the answers and we recognise that there are still some grey areas and topics for discussion, especially when the rights of trans people might conflict with the rights of people with other characteristics. For example, should someone who worked up the career ladder for 30 years as a man, then transitioned, be eligible for a ‘Women in Business’ award when she has not encountered all the barriers that women face throughout their working life? These conflict areas must be carefully considered, not solved with soundbites or social media posts.
We are happy to discuss these matters in a constructive and respectful way. Our trans members would be glad to meet you if you have any questions about their personal experience, but will not engage with anyone who seeks to challenge who they are – that is unacceptable. Please get in touch with us here or on Facebook if you would like to meet us and learn more.
We will give the last word to one of our trans friends who put it perfectly “There is nothing actually wrong with being trans in itself – I feel that I understand how society treats men and how it treats women, and that is very valuable insight. I am happy that I have come out and can finally live as myself. The only thing that is a problem is the attitude of some other people. That’s all. If all the other people treated us with respect and kindness, everything would be just fine.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article and want support, advice or counselling, please go to www.cmagic.org.uk – they are the Cheshire-based service for trans and nonbinary people. If you are under 18 there is support for you at www.mermaids.org.uk. If you’d like to connect with other trans people or just a friendly chat in Congleton, please contact Congleton Pride here on our website or on Facebook.