Not fitting anywhere: the intersectional experiences of trans people claiming disability-related benefits

Apologies for the silence on the project blog – this is partly down to the busy-ness of team members, but also issues outwith our control that mean the project has been extended beyond the original deadline.

However, we have been making progress with the analysis of our interview transcripts, and we have an abstract accepted to present a paper with the same title as this blog post at the annual Social Policy Association Conference in Glasgow in July.

We’re particularly highlighting the experience of disabled people for a few reasons. Firstly, this was the main intersectional identity we encountered among our participants. This is unsurprising – a lot of disabled people to claim social security benefits to support them in living an independent life. Also, our participant recruitment was probably more likely to encourage people who wanted to complain about their experiences to take part in our research.

And this leads onto our second point – the process of welfare reform has made claiming disability-related benefits truly horrific, particularly the assessments associated with Personal Independence Payment. There is no need for us to rehearse the endless stories here of people dying on their way to the assessments, or also the everyday violence of people with impairments like loss-of-limbs expected to do repeat assessments as though their limb would grow back; or people with degenerative illnesses having their claims stopped at their repeated assessments.

We did get numerous stories like this in our own research. Reading some of the stories in the interview transcripts was actually quite distressing. The fact that some of our participants could make light of them was really quite astonishing. But for us, the intersection between LGBT+ identities and disability is especially interesting, as explored in this quote from participant Tim:

“I applied for PIP and I had my PIP interview and they were just basically like no, don’t deserve it. Which was a bit, I don’t know …what’s the word, not disempowering but kind of like removes your identity a bit I think as a disabled person… saying oh you’re not disabled enough to earn this”

Tim, 36, Manchester, gay, he/his

A defining experience for LGBT+ is the everyday discrimination of being told you are not “enough” – you’re not “man enough”, “you’re not ladylike” etc. You live with the shame and stigma of this. Part of coming out and being proud is saying that this no longer matters and you should be accepted as you. In Tim’s quote here we see this experience layered twice, by the assessment process for PIP. This is someone who likely has been told he’s not man enough and doesn’t deserve things because of that, and is now being told that you are not disabled enough.

It would be very easy to say of experiences like those of our participants that they are just the same – awful – experiences for everyone regardless of sexual or gender identity. But, we need to recognise, as intersectionality does, that these are different people interacting with the same processes, so they will have a different experience, and bring different experiences to these processes. Therefore, a better, less violent social security system will be better for everyone.

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