Munroe Bergdorf, model and activist, pens a letter for Jameela on the realities of being trans in the UK today and how far we have left to go in the fight against transphobia.
“The best part of being trans is being trans, the worst part of being trans is other people.”
I wrote this tweet in June after thinking about the current social disconnect between the increased trans visibility in the media and the increasingly unsafe reality of being trans in the UK.
I was thinking about how, if people would just let us be who we are and who we want to be, the issues that we face as a community with regards to mental illness, suicide, homelessness and self-harm would significantly reduce as a result.
Being trans is in itself not especially difficult – it is the environment that we transition within that makes it so. Being transgender in today’s Britain is a polarised experience. While media visibility, representation and public awareness are at an all-time high, trans people also face soaring levels of violence and a startlingly transphobic mainstream media presence, as well as bullying and harassment on social media.
During this year’s Pride Month in June, the BBC reported that it had obtained data showing that transgender hate crimes recorded in England, Scotland and Wales had risen 81%. While the Home Office stated that this is down to better reporting and recording, I would argue that it is a heartbreakingly accurate reflection of an increasingly trans-hostile time. Leading LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall stated that it showed “the consequences of a society where transphobia is everywhere”.
I’m often asked, “How can I be a better trans ally?” and honestly the list is endless, but at the very top of that very long list is supporting the services that support us – the majority of which are not state-funded and rely wholly on donations and volunteers.
Much-needed services such as Mermaids, a charity that supports gender-diverse and transgender children and their families. Like CliniQ, which offers queer-inclusive and non-judgmental holistic wellbeing and sexual health services to trans people, their friends and families. Like Gendered Intelligence, which delivers youth programmes for young trans people under the age of 21. It is so important that we protect these services to help stem the effects of transphobia on the transgender community – especially as the services are also under constant threat by anti-trans organisations running defamatory campaigns.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Increased media visibility may not necessarily keep us safe in the streets, but it does give the increasing numbers of trans children who are coming out role models to look up to.
To think that younger trans people can now switch on their television and see actors Indya Moore and MJ Rodriguez in Emmy-nominated TV show Pose. Or stream an album by up-and-coming popstar Kim Petras. Or hop onto YouTube and easily access videos of people speaking about their firsthand experiences of coming out as non-binary. Or even something as simple as picking up this edition of Stylist and seeing the inclusion of my perspective as a black, queer, transgender woman.
This fills me with so much joy because it’s something that I didn’t have access to when I was growing up.
I often say that if I had seen a Laverne Cox or a Janet Mock in a magazine when I was younger, everything that I was feeling during my adolescence would have begun to make sense a lot sooner. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I started to find transgender role models that I could truly relate to, and by that point I had internalised so much self-hate with regard to my gender and racial identity that it stopped me sharing how I felt with other people – a vicious cycle which severely impacted on my mental health.
What I want you to take away from this short essay is that while some community figureheads are rightfully having their time to shine, this is not an accurate reflection of the reality of how it feels to be transgender in the UK today. This is something that we can all work to change by ensuring that we take a hard line on calling out and condemning transphobia in all its manifestations.
Transphobia isn’t just verbal or physical assault, it’s more nuanced than that. It’s everything from being refused entry to spaces aligned with our gender identity, to biased media reporting, to intentional misgendering of trans individuals, to the stigma attached to dating a trans person.
We must start working towards a time where trans people are not only celebrated on screen, but also in real life. Transphobia – just like racism, sexism or homophobia – is not an opinion, it is discrimination based on prejudice. In order to progress towards a fair, equal and safe society for trans people to live in, we all need to recognise it as such. Trans lives matter. This cannot continue to be a debate.
Photography: Sally Brick