Archive for the 'trans exclusion' Category

Why I will not be attending the 2010 Million Women Rise march

March 3, 2010

The first national survey on violence against trans people […] found that 48% of respondents had been victims of assault, including sexual assault and rape, and 78% had experienced verbal harassment. Other research conducted in the US found that 43% of the participants had been a victim of violence or crime, with 75% of those attributing a motive of either transphobia or homophobia to it. (Source)

There is no doubt in my mind that trans women are experiencing escalating levels of violence which are disproportionately high in relation to our numbers. Following last year’s International Transgender Day of Remembrance and the publication of the preliminary results of the 2009 update of the TGEU Trans Murder Monitoring project, it became known that more than 160 murders of trans people had been recorded in the preceding year. This prompted the equality/diversity campaigner Christine Burns to carry out this ‘back of the envelope’ calculation:

If trans ppl are (say) 1 in 10K of the population then 200 trans murders equivalent to 2 million in wider population

I can’t help but think that if 2,000,000 cis people had been murdered for no other reason than that they were cis, there would have been an international outcry. But by anybody’s standards, this is surely worthy of the attention of those with the power to initiate the attitudinal changes that are urgently needed to bring to an end this undeclared war on us.

As we know, cis women are also subject to violence and you might think that all women, no matter how we self-identify, trans or cis, would have a common cause and shared interest in claiming our human rights to life and security. And as the Million Women Rise website says:

A woman’s right to live free from violence and / or the fear of violence has not been achieved.

[…]

If you think this needs to change, then join us on a public demonstration to show those in power that it’s just not good enough!

However, it is unclear to me if the “us” that MWR uses is a fully trans inclusive “us” – or whether it refers only to cis women. The insistence on using the phrase “women only” – the website has an entire page of its own on the subject – is a definite cause for concern. To a trans woman like me, the term is contentious because it carries the baggage of nearly half a century of our exclusion from so-called “women only spaces”. The bitter irony, of course, is that we have just as much right to be in these spaces as cis women. The reason we’re not there is because those spaces have been taken from us by cis women feminists, often by force and always without accountability.

Lynne, in her excellent post at The F-Word, says that some may think this is nit-picking, but as far as I’m concerned, and to paraphrase a friend, the point is not whether or not women like me would probably be okay on the march, the point is that we wouldn’t feel safe.

In my opinion, any feminism which causes any woman, trans or cis, to fear for her own safety is a feminism which fails all women, trans and cis. And when this happens at such a high-profile event in one of the world’s biggest cities, it makes me wonder why an organisation which can, apparently without hesitation, turn its back on some women but not others, is considered by so many to be a suitable representative of the womens’ movement, a decade into the 21st century.

That is the heart of it, and that is why I will not be attending the 2010 Million Women Rise march.

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Addendum: If this state of affairs leaves you as frustrated/infuriated/despondent as me, you may wish to contact MWR directly to express your views and ask the questions that they have been evading for far too long. According to their website, MWR can be emailed at info@millionwomenrise.com but, if my experience is anything to go by, don’t hold your breath for an answer.

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Lu’s Pharmacy update

January 27, 2010

VWHC logoIn July 2009 I wrote here and here about Lu’s Pharmacy in Vancouver and their denial of access to transsexual women to their services on the grounds that we aren’t “women who were born women” (Via Vancouver Women’s Health Collective’s Our Political Agreements statement – direct link to PDF here).

However, it seems from the transcanada LJ comm (via Google blog search) that, as from 21 January 2010, Lu’s Pharmacy will offer its services to transsexual women.

A further post (via Google blog search), suggests that at least three trans women have been to Lu’s Pharmacy without being thrown out. It’s to be hoped that the women were able, without hindrance or harassment, to access the resources offering a “full-service pharmacy” as well as “advice on your medication and your healthcare”. (Via VWHC website – Lu’s Services)

Additionally:

Vancouver Womens’ Health Collective changed their policy, and Transphobe Caryn Duncan resigned the same week.

Of course it’s heartening to hear of cis women not only recognising their cissexism but also taking positive steps to begin putting right some of the wrongs they have committed in the name of a toxic and elitist feminism, and for that alone, this news is to be welcomed. However, there is no excuse for complacency on the part of any of the staff at Lu’s Pharmacy and it’s to be hoped that all concerned will now work with trans women to ensure that the transphobia so shamefully enshrined in the former regime under the directorship of Caryn Duncan is comprehensively and permanently rooted out.

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Reclaim The Night: policing the borders of cis feminism

November 25, 2009

Previously, on more than one occasion, I’ve made it clear that my anger at the members of the London Feminist Network who organise the annual Reclaim The Night march here in London arises from their continuing refusal to make any public clarification of their position on trans women attending the event. For a transsexual woman like me, their use of the phrase “women only” is contentious because it carries with it the baggage of nearly half a century of our exclusion from cis women’s spaces.

That such blatant and toxic cissexism is applied to trans women is, frankly, unforgivable in this day and age, but reading the latest post on the Feminist Fightback blog (link here) makes me realise just how dangerous the march organisers’ attitudes are when applied to other cis women too.

As self-identified women committed to fighting gender-based violence, members of Feminist Fightback attended last Saturday’s march in solidarity with sex workers fighting for the right to self-organise against exploitation in their industry.

From the blog post, it seems that not only were they subjected to physical harassment and verbal abuse from other marchers, but were approached and interrogated by the police, apparently at the request of one of the stewards.

[…] we were extremely surprised to find that one of the basic principles of feminism (and all social justice movements) was forgotten in this instance – namely, that we never resort to using police aggression to silence and intimidate members of our own movement, no matter how much we may disagree with them.

And that is the crux of the matter. Feminism isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about a minority of privileged cis women using strongarm tactics against other, far more vulnerable women simply to prop up their distorted and outmoded worldviews. Might is most definitely not right, and the actions of those self-appointed guardians of a fictitious ‘true feminism’ have revealed the extent of the moral bankruptcy at the core of the London Feminist Network. They should be ashamed of themselves and if they had a shred of conscience, all those concerned would have stepped down by now.

It’s no surprise that the organisers of the Reclaim The Night march have made no public statement about this incident and their silence serves only to underline their desperation to hold on to their positions of power without accountability. But listen well, my sisters: the day is coming when you will be called to justify your appalling treatment of all those women against whom you have consistently used your privilege to discriminate, when the right and proper thing to do would have been to support and assist them in their struggle against a common enemy.

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TDOR 2009 – Bring it on home (RTN London remix)

November 23, 2009

Outside it’s a cold, rainy morning and my mood today matches the weather: bleak with seemingly little chance of sunshine any time soon. I write these random but related thoughts on the Monday following the International Transgender Day Of Remembrance last Friday (link here), and Saturday’s memorial event in London (link here) primarily for the purpose of trying to process my personal thoughts and feelings rather than making some brave statement of activist intent. Last Friday’s 11th International Transgender Day Of Remembrance (link here) hit me much harder than ever before, and I’m still not sure why that is.

The wave of transphobic violence affecting trans people across the world continues to spiral out of control and it’s hard not to think that the only folk who give a damn about it are trans people ourselves. Last week I wrote about the statistics published in the recent TGEU report (link here) and the global average murder rate of three trans people per week is lodged firmly in my mind. The equality/diversity campaigner Christine Burns posted a quick calculation on Twitter to emphasise the scale of the impact of this murder rate on my community:

If trans ppl are (say) 1 in 10K of the population then 200 trans murders equivalent to 2 million in wider population (link here)

She added:

If 2 million people across Europe were murdered in 18 months then I’m guessing that would have some media interest (link here)

That last point is particularly cogent in light of the fact that the TDOR seems to receive no mass media coverage at all, whilst the murder last week of the Italian trans woman known as Brenda (link here) has received what I can only describe as salacious attention as a result of its reported connection with a so-called “political sex scandal” (link here). In the process, Brenda’s humanity – her identity – has been appropriated and devalued to promote the trope that all trans women are sex workers (subtext: and therefore deserve everything that happens to us, up to and including murder).

Closer to home, Saturday’s TDOR vigil here in London left me emotionally in tatters. Having spent most of Friday on the verge of tears for my murdered siblings, the event itself, so simple and so powerful, was unutterably sad. It was hard not to think especially of Destiny Lauren – a resident of the same London borough in which the TDOR event was held – who was strangled and her flat set on fire exactly two weeks before TDOR (link here). Despite his obvious distress, Destiny’s brother attended and gave a short speech before lighting a candle to her memory. At moments like that, when you see firsthand the human cost of the murders of my sisters on those who loved them, it is almost impossible to feel any empathy for those who see us as disposable objects, targets for their own transphobic self-loathing. The realisation that we are truly alone in a world which is intrinsically hostile to our existence is one of the biggest metaphorical slaps in the face you could receive.

The awareness of this sense of isolation was reinforced by the words of a representative of Press For Change, quoting from their recent report, Transphobic Hate Crime in the European Union (direct link to PDF).

Types of harassment by country

[…] British/UK respondents reported the highest levels of verbal abuse (25%); […] English respondents reported the highest levels of physical abuse (7%) […]

As the man said: “In Britain, if they come after you, they mean to kill you”. I hope I never hear more chilling words than that and they were much on my mind as I headed for home before the cis feminists’ Reclaim The Night march took to the streets. And when I did reach home and logged into my computer, I was bombarded by emails and Tweets from those cis women feminists who had attended the evening’s trans exclusive march to highlight the risk of street violence faced by cis women in London. In the light of the overwhelming sense of sadness and loss that I was feeling after TDOR, the sense of self-congratulatory complacency was almost too much to bear. It did, however, make me think again about my earlier suggestion (link here) that the trans community in London might wish to consider holding our own, trans centred, march – although I also accept that, realistically, it’s unlikely ever to happen, for a number of reasons.

My weekend hit rock bottom in the early hours of Sunday following a couple of “robust exchanges” online with cis women feminists. Their ciscentric apologism for other of their sisters’ transphobic bigotry improved neither my mood nor my belief that too many cis women feminists still have far too much work to do before this transsexual woman can really begin to believe the all-too-frequent assertion that:

“Not all of us cis woman feminisits are transphobic, promise!” (link here)

As much as I’d like to believe it, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support this claim. For example, how many of these self-appointed allies attended the TDOR memorial event on Saturday? (The event finished at about 4.30pm, a good hour in advance of the start of the RTN march; the timing couldn’t have been better). How many have bothered to contact the organisers of the march to ask if they would make the much-requested public confirmation (on the website and associated publicity materials) that the march is trans inclusive?

“Trans inclusion is not defined by the absence of ‘no’, it is the presence a clearly stated ‘yes'” (link here)

Because, really, telling me that…

“the event had trans women in attendance and pro-trans women rhetoric on the stage.” (link here)

completely misses the point. As Aunty Sarah so eloquently says over on her LJ (link here):

“The point is not that women like me would probably be OK on an RTN march, the point is that we don’t feel safe.”

The irony, of course – as many trans women have pointed out, many times before – is that we have just as much right to be in these “women only spaces” as cis women. The reason we’re not there is because those spaces have been taken from us by cis women feminists, often by force and always without accountability. And that, I believe, is why so many cis women feminists are so contemptuous, so aggressively hostile, when trans women speak of our inclusion in “women only spaces” – attacking us and policing the borders of “their” feminism allows them to ignore their guilt about not accounting for their actions and those of their cis sisters for nearly half a century.

“Women only” = “Cis women only”. Remember Sandy Stone/Olivia Records, Rachel Padman/Germaine Greer, Michfest, VRR. And on, and on (link here)

And while cis women feminists continue to indulge their denial, and pat each other on the back for walking arm-in-arm along one of the major shopping streets in London at 6pm on a Saturday evening, out here my sisters are still dying alone, three a week, every week.

I maintain that any cis woman feminist who talks about “ending violence against women”, whilst simultaneously excluding trans women from that equation, is as much part of the problem as the patriarchal society which condones her abandonment of her trans sisters, whose loss to transphobic violence some of us mourned on Friday and Saturday.

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Note: The images used in this post are from onequeerone’s TDOR London photo set and are used in compliance with the Creative Commons License for non-commercial use.

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This is not a trans woman

November 22, 2009

Feminism in London workshop: follow-up

October 10, 2009

FiL09-161x162In my earlier response to Lucy’s comments (links here and here) on my posts “Cis Feminism in London 09” and “Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist Network”, I said that I wanted to write a little more on the subject, and that’s what I’m trying to do in this post.

Additionally, I would recommend that anyone interested in following this thread also reads Laura’s post, Feminism in London workshop, at The F-Word blog.

Before I start, I want to make my own clarification. The views and opinions I express here are mine alone: I do not claim to be representative of transsexual women. Neither is it my intent to invisibilise, marginalise or silence the voices of other transsexual women.

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Late on Friday afternoon, the organisers of the Feminism In London event updated their website with the following information:

On the website’s home page:

This event is trans-inclusive and transwomen are welcome in the one workshop that is women-only. The Feminism in London organising group would like to apologise for not making this clear from the beginning.

On the workshops schedule page:

This workshop is for women (including transwomen) only.

Whilst I consider this to be a positive outcome overall and I welcome the clarification, there are a few points I’d like to make.

  1. The whole situation need never have arisen in the first place. The term “women-only” is cissexist, and has been since it was first coined by cis women feminists. That a supposedly progressive and egalitarian movement continues to use it makes it clear that the overwhelming majority of its members have simply not checked their cis privilege.

    Had the original publicity material (and let’s remember that it was only the website that was changed, not any posters/flyers, etc) been clear from the outset that the entire event was open to all self-identified women (for want of another clearly inclusive term), then the risk of misinterpretation could have been eliminated.

  2. I wonder if there would have been any clarification at all from Feminism In London if a member of the FIL organising committee hadn’t seen Laura’s post at TFW (the situation only began to turn after the comment initiated further discussion between the organiser and TFW bloggers).

    And I know this will make me (even more) unpopular in some people’s eyes, but I cannot understate the contribution my TFW co-bloggers made to precipitating FIL’s clarification. The positive outcome is, I believe, due entirely to their input. As well as being my co-bloggers and my friends, I’m more than happy to call them my allies.

  3. I’m not comfortable with the term “transwomen”. It carries its own meanings of objectification and othering and I would have preferred to see trans used as an adjective. We don’t refer to (for example) Lesbianwomen, or Jewishwomen, or diabeticwomen – so why say transwomen?
  4. The FIL event was still strongly biased against sex workers, and that is another aspect which needs to be addressed.

I realise that to some cis women feminists I still sound like Angry Trans Harpy™ – which I’m not. Well… not completely. I am pissed off that this whole discussion even needed to take place, but perhaps that’s just a measure of how deeply entrenched transphobic views still are within cis women’s feminism. And although I’m glad that the organisers of Feminism In London clarified – albeit only at the eleventh hour – that their event didn’t exclude trans women, I remain sceptical that the London Feminist Network is any less transphobic.

So now this transsexual woman waits to see if the lesson learned by FIL will be applied to next month’s Reclaim The Night march.

Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist Network

October 5, 2009

RTN cis onlyMy previous post (link here) has drawn me into looking further back along the organisational chain of command, and the results are as depressing and predictable as one might expect; as much for the failure of would-be allies as for the actual transphobia of the organisers.

Reclaim The Night and Feminism in London are both organised by the London Feminist Network and one commonality in all their literature is the use of the trans exclusionary phrase “women only”.

The problem arises because the term is grounded in the use of the long-established trope which states that transsexual women are “not really women” – hence my assertion that the phrase women only is trans exclusionary. The definition is essentialist in meaning as it infers that one can only be “born a woman” (and never “become a woman”, to paraphrase de Beauvoir), and in so doing it denies not only the existence and agency of transsexual women and transsexual men, but also the potential for change itself. Thus women comes to mean cis women, just as surely as women only means cis women only. The biological determinism underpinning this rationale ensures that these definitions become permanent, unquestionable, immutable dogma.

However, it also results in the anomalous situation we now see in the cases of both Feminism In London and Reclaim The Night where transsexual men (“really women”) will be welcomed to these events, at the same time as transsexual women (“really men”) will be excluded. The bias in favour of transsexual men not only makes use of one of the most offensive manifestations of transphobia – ungendering us – but silences and further marginalises transsexual women in the process: it is divisive too. At the same time, it reinforces the male/female binary which, in their next breath, those same cis women feminists will tell you they are committed to destroying – because, they reason, gender isn’t really absolute, determined by one’s genital configuration at birth, it is in fact a completely malleable, socially constructed concept.

LFN cis onlyBut regardless of the contorted and contradictory logic employed by LFN to exclude transsexual women, it’s interesting to note how the cis women feminist organisers then go on to avoid being called on their hidden transphobia by saying nothing explicitly about who is included in, and who is excluded from, the term women only. Their cis women feminist supporters at these events, who blithely go along with this hypocrisy by telling themselves that if transsexual women aren’t explicitly excluded then they must be implicitly included, are therefore not only complicit in the silencing of transsexual women, but their complacency allows the organisers to manipulate and exploit them in pursuit of this hidden transphobic agenda.

Which brings me to the real question: who decided this? How many people were responsible for implementing this trans exclusionary policy – and would they have been successful if the majority not been so apathetic? In a situation like this, saying nothing is no different to actively supporting the bigots. And given that transsexual women are highly unlikely to have access to the decision-making process, it falls to those cis women feminists who call themselves allies to take a stand on our behalf.

No more excuses, my sisters.

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Cross-posted at Harlot’s Parlour

Cis Feminism in London 09

October 3, 2009

Feminism in London - it's for cis women onlyNext weekend sees the Feminism in London 09 event. There are various workshops and discussions on a range of subjects: for example, racism and sexism, self-defence and assertiveness training, activism training, etc – and nearly 30 speakers scheduled. Any self-identified woman, whether cis or not, would surely find something of interest there.

But what’s this on the front page of the website?

If you are a woman or a pro-feminist man, come along to join the discussion.

Any trans woman seeing that will surely already hear the alarm bells ringing. It shouldn’t need restating that the word “woman” defaults to meaning “cis woman” and excludes trans women as a consequence. And “pro-feminist man”? I wonder if that includes trans men?

But there’s more. At the bottom of every single page of the website is this little gem of transphobia:

Some workshops may be for women only.

I see. And which workshops might they be, then? Close reading suggests that there is, in fact, only one workshop which is open to cis women only, and it’s the Rape and sexual violence workshop.

Because, as we know, trans women never suffer rape and violence.

Scratch the surface and the same old hidden agenda can be seen. Biological determinism: if you were born male-bodied, you will only ever be male. And its corollary – if you were born female-bodied, you will only ever be female – is the flipside. The thinking, if that’s the word I want, is fundamentally cissexist. The implication is that, irrespective of how we self-identify, to cis people we are always and forever the gender we were assigned at birth. It’s interesting that a self-styled feminist event should choose to implement such an essentialist policy. Whatever happened to the idea that gender is entirely socially constructed? And what happened to the feminism that preached equality for all and an end to oppression and discrimination?

And what all of this means in the context of the event is that a trans man will be welcome at the Rape and sexual violence workshop (because cis women have decided that he’s “really a woman”), but not a trans woman (because cis women have decided that she’s not).

But then I suppose it would be foolish to expect anything else of an event organised by the rabidly transphobic London Feminist Network. The same people who were last seen supporting a transphobic bigot celebrity lifestyle journalist at last year’s Stonewall UK protest, and who are no doubt already gearing up for the annual Reclaim The Night (But Only For Cis Women) march next month.

Frankly, if this is state of feminism in Britain’s biggest city in the 21st century you know what you can do with it.

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ETA: Because trans women never suffer sexual violence.
(Via This Is South WalesPDF here)

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Cross-posted at Harlot’s Parlour

Post-identity feminism and the “problem of agency”

May 10, 2009

transgender-symbol_103x120In his post Feminist Theory and Identity Politics (link here) A Very Public Sociologist writes about a recent talk given by Professor Lois McNay, a cis women academic at the University of Oxford, when she talked about how feminism is “moving into an era of post-identity politics, which is stepping away from issues of difference and is grappling again with the problem of agency”.

Professor McNay’s theory serves only to highlight her own privileged position, comfortably ensconced in the leafy groves of academe. Any trans woman who has had even the smallest brush with cis women’s feminism will know only too well that the overwhelming majority of cis women feminists – if they even give a fuck about trans women to start with – are openly hostile to our presence within “their” movement. That stance, by definition, seeks to deny us not only our agency but our very right to exist at all.

Why? Because our existence demands the rethinking of vast swathes of feminist theory and the reshaping of 40 years of transphobic attitudes. And that, apparently, is simply too much like hard work. Far easier to demand that – in the words of feminist icon and transphobe Janice Raymond – we are morally mandated out of existence.

And to suggest that “the problem of agency” is feminism’s concern when so many cis women feminists flatly deny trans women’s agency is just a joke.

You want to talk about the “problem of agency”? Because I agree that it exists. No question. So where shall we start?

  • The “agency” enshrined in an Equality Bill where trans rights were added almost as an afterthought, and are so poorly protected as to be almost worthless?
  • The “agency” of a non-gendered person living in a state which demands that per identifies as either male or female?
  • And where was this “agency” when Allen Andrade unilaterally decided that Angie Zapata had no right to live, because he disapproved of her genital topography?
  • What about the “agency” of an LGBT solidarity organisation to operate without state-imposed conditions? Or the “agency” of trans people in a country where the state tacitly condones transphobic violence?
  • The “agency” trans people have when it comes to changing our documentation to match our gender identities without having to jump through a needlessly complex series of hoops?
  • Where’s the “agency” of trans people in a centralised database system that requires us to pay for two different ID cards?
  • How about that old favourite, the “agency” that trans women have to use (cis) women’s toilets?
  • Or the “agency” we have in a healthcare system which demands that we submit to being pathologised as “mentally disordered” before it will dispense the medications and surgeries which have been shown countless times to ameliorate a condition which is rooted in how we perceive our identity?

I could find many, many more examples of the forms of “agency” denied to us but, frankly, any cis person – be they feminist, socialist or some high-faluting academic an ivory tower – who doesn’t ‘get it’ by now is demonstrating not only a monumental failure to grasp the simple fact that trans people across the world are forcibly reminded every single day that our “agency” is defined, administered and controlled by cis people – but also that, as long as the situation remains unchanged, there cannot possibly be any such thing as a “post-identity feminism”.

Procter & Gamble bars trans discrimination

May 4, 2009

Procter & Gamble logoVia the Washington Blade:

Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer products maker, has amended its anti-discrimination policy to include gender identity and expression.

The policy was recently amended to read: “We at P&G recognize the power that comes from people of diverse backgrounds and experiences coming together around a common goal. Our policy forbids any discrimination, harassment or intimidation because of race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability or other non-job-related personal characteristic. Employees are encouraged to bring questions or concerns in this area to their management. Strict disciplinary action for violations of this policy will be taken, including termination of employment.

Although I wonder why it’s taken the company so long to make this addition – and why now? – the underlying issue is that there should be a need for trans specific policies.

In a perfect world, trans people wouldn’t need this sort of ‘positive discrimination’ because we wouldn’t be discriminated against in the first place. And, of course, to benefit from the protections so enshrined in (yet not always enforced by) such policies, we need to ‘out’ ourselves as being trans – and, undoubtedly, be able to ‘prove it’ to the employers too. In turn, that burden of proof will undoubtedly be a requirement for verifiable medical documentation, which presumes that all trans people are undergoing medically sanctioned transitions.

But this is not a perfect world and trans people are routinely discriminated against, marginalised and excluded from countless aspects of this overwhelmingly cis people’s society. Until cis people accept us for the human beings we are, without feeling the need to tokenise, exoticise and objectify us, then such policies will continue to be needed.

Not that such policies will even guarantee our protection, but given the huge difficulties that many trans people face in simply obtaining employment, let alone keeping it, then these few crumbs are all the (cold) comfort that many of us have.

So, while I am heartened to see some employers at least acknowledging our existence, the fact that we are still positioned as some kind of endangered species in need of paternalistic levels of care and concern, only underlines that it is cis society’s attitudes that need to evolve.

We are not this week’s little problem to be solved by bleeding heart cis liberals in the HR department – the problem is that, by othering us in this way, cis society yet again absolves itself from doing the work necessary to develop a mindset which is truly inclusive, accepting and non-discriminatory. These policies are only needed because cis people’s ignorance, bigotry and hostility make these limited protections necessary.

Trans people are not the problem: cis people are.