How can we make trans lives visible?

This morning I sat having my breakfast listening to someone argue on the radio that transwomen should be excluded from the inclusive, friendly weekly park run. As I stood waiting for my train, where I’m sat writing this, I saw a wonderful advert for the new Trans+ charity Not a Phase. On this trans day of visibility, the lives of trans people in the UK are more visible than ever, and sadly often because they are being vilified.

In our post a year ago on Trans Day of Visibility, we highlighted how trans people are invisible in most statistics. After the 2021 Census in England and Wales that is no longer the case – we now know that half of one per cent of people in England and Wales have a gender that is different from that which was assigned when they were born.

This issue of trans identities being made invisible came up in our research and speaking to trans people about their experiences of accessing welfare. Although most bureaucratic processes now include equalities monitoring forms, these do not always include trans history. Non-binary participants, in particular, felt excluded from systems that forced them into the gender binary and would not allow them to chose gender neutral titles. Non-binary participants also spoke of being laughed at by assessors, or being intrusively questioned about their identity by front-line staff.

However, we do have to address the question of whether these bureaucracies should make trans people visible through such monitoring processes. This is a complex issue within the trans community that we, as cisgender researchers, are aware of. Some of our participants did not want to disclose their trans identity at all. And that is always their right. Other participants across the whole LGBT+ community felt that their gender or sexual identity “didn’t matter” for receiving welfare benefits.

Yet, our data from the stories our participants have told us shows it does often matter. We have now entered the final phase of qualitative data collection where we are speaking to welfare and money advice services, and LGBT+ organisations, to understand their awareness of the issues LGBT+ people might face in accessing the welfare system. It has been very reassuring that we have had an extremely positive response from mainstream welfare advice services – the staff we have spoken too are genuinely really interested to know they can best support LGBT+ people.

They say this, but on the other hand they report they cannot recall having LGBT+ clients. The challenge for the research team in bringing the findings of the project together to consider ways in which such services can be made inclusive so that LGBT+ people do feel that they matter and they can comfortably disclose their identity when and if it matters to them.  

Theme by the University of Stirling