The Gender Spectrum... Nothing New Here!!
The topic of gender identity is one that is contested each & every day in our media.
The debate seems never ending as regards the emergence of "all these new identities."
What is often overlooked is the understanding of the more nuanced approach to Sexual Orientation, which has developed since the Gay Rights Movement of the1970's & 1980s.
At that time there was a perceived "explosion" of Gay people coming out, if you paid attention, to the alarmist headlines of the time.
The battle cry of "what about our children" & the fear mongering that, more out gay people would result in a generation being "queered" proved to be entirely unfounded. Just as we hear similar echos of this rhetoric, as regards the equally reactionary assertion that, our current generation are being "transed" by the Transgender lobby.
The reality was & is that as more people came out, still more people felt safer to come out. The numbers weren't actually any different, it was the levels of visibility that were more evident. Hence the fears of "what about the children? " made little impact on the reality. At that time I was one of those children, yet the statistics show no substantial increase in my generation, of LGBT folx.
As such 80's kids (Gen X) reflect proportionately the approximate 10% or so in society, of self identified LGBTQIA+ people.
Interestingly that was in the social context of the bad old days of Section 28. When to be called any of the variations of "gay" in the school corridors, was about the worst insult you could encounter. Such was the unchallenged ferosity, of the discrimination at the time.
I remember those heart stopping moments, when those slurs were brutally banded around. At school & in our communities, neighbourhoods, & homes etc.
Moreover the total erasure of any reference, of the existance of LGBT people, in Sex Education in Secondary school. I was one of many in my generation, closeted & fearful of ever coming out.
Eventually the day arrived & but it was after those formative school years had passed. When we existed in silence alongside our LGBTQ peers, recognising each other, yet never daring to be seen.
Fortunately things have improved for some of our community. Through the passage of time & the many who have led the way for us, our trail blazers, we have acquired many priveledges.
The Gay Rights Movement ensured the removal of many of the unjust policies, that continued to oppress our community. These were hard won rights & I as are many others, are immensely grateful, to those who paved the way for us.
Of that era I distinctly recall watching the BBC News "Invasion" in protest over Section 28. The newsreader of the day, was hailed a consumerate professional for her composure! The sneering & contempt directed towards the wayward "lesbians" dragged off in handcuffs was unforgettable. This of course was in protest of the Section 28 policy that homosexuality (LGBT existance) could not be discussed or promoted in any school in the UK. I remember watching this scene unfold on the evening news, both baffled & intrigued in equal measure!! What I didn't recognise & as many of my generation at that time, these people were our hero's!! Where are they now ? I'd love to shake their hands & thank them.
Why? because schools now fly the Rainbow flag quite literally & have inclusive policies that are potentially life saving to our young LGB people. Yet we must acknowledge the devastating suicide statistics that remain for our young trans people, who are often left behind. For those who are affirmed, they have a much reduced risk, of growing up feeling othered, less than, with crippling environmental internalised homophobia.
There is of course, much more to come with this, with the introduction of LGBT Education Reforms as of September this year. I wrote in a previous post about this "Untying the Noose of Hate". Undoubtedly I will be writing more about this in the future. These reforms will be addressing LGBT issues, along with discussing different gender identities, in an age appropriate way.
The aforementioned protests of the 80's & 90's ensured that children, can openly identify as LGBT in schools nowadays.
Due to the syllabus & culture of our educational establishments, being reflective of our current society. So that they include the different types of people, family structures & relationships in our communities, already present in our school systems.
These days LGBT identifying teachers do not have to be closeted or fearful, this has undoubtedly been a massive step forward. Both in terms of human rights & representation of all the spectrum that exists in our society... well almost.
I also remember watching Peter Tatchell protest & campaign tirelessly whilst memorably invading the Archbishop of Canterburys pulpit! Again met with a near identical response, being manhandeled & roughed up as he was extracted, in the same manner as the BBC news invasion heroes!
This was closely followed by the foundation of Stonewall in 1989 founded by more of our amazing trail blazers Michael Cashman, Sir Ian McKellen & Lisa Power who have achieved a phenomenal amount of progress for us.
In the intervening years we have seen equality acheived with an Equal Age of Consent ammended to 18 years old (1994) & then later full equality achieved for 16 year olds in (2001). Civil Partnerships were then enacted into law (2005) later followed by full equality in Same Sex Marriage legislation (2013) on a par with our heterosexual contemporaries.
The humble beginnings of all of these hugely significant legal changes, were not warmly welcomed. At the time society huffed, puffed (excuse the pun!) & sneered bitterly complaining, why are they doing these things it was much to the frustration of the majority! It was a time of both civil unrest around these social issues, characterised by civil disobedience, to highlight the cause. These real life events, even influenced the TV plot lines of the time.
The infamous Brookside kiss, then others followed in prime time shows, as did the outrage, the anger, the "why do they have to shove it in our faces" attitude.
Now 20 + years later & prime time LGBT relationships are not uncommon on our screens & in our films. They barely generate a murmur of discontent, let alone newspaper headlines & petitions to Downing Street.
We have evolved immensely & this is a fact of our society which I & many others celebrate & benefit from. We have come to understand so much more about sexuality existing on a spectrum, which has now largely been integrated into our nations psyche.
The majority accept there are people who self identify as gay & as straight. There is no test, no exam to pass, no doctors to approve or disprove. We believe people when they self identify with whom they are primarily attracted to on the basis of gender.
We do not overly question or interrogate our young people if they identify as heterosexual & cisgender. We entirely accept their word & ability to know their own minds.
Yet the opposite experience is so for young people who identify as Transgender or Non Binary, sitting in the grey areas or outside of the binary model altogether. Why is this so? When we fully accept spectrum models as regards romantic attraction. We accept without question that some people are attracted to the opposite gender, others of the same gender, and for others it's a combination.
We now understand that Sexual Orientation exists on a spectrum. Ranging from the polar opposite positions of Gay & Straight. In addition to the less fixed positions of being Bisexual, Pansexual, Aromatic etc.
We could break those subsections down further & thats important to acknowledge. However perhaps thats better for another blog post to explore. We could also delve into the different type of relationships within that spectrum, regardless of orientation including, Monogamy, Polyamory, Kink etc.
There are many great writers on these particular subclassifications, but it's outside of my remit for the purposes of this post!
The point is we have shifted in our understanding & acceptance of Sexuality existing on a spectrum. Far more than we could ever have been imagined, 20 or even 30 years ago.
So why is there so much debate, hostility, ridicule & confusion over a comparable model to Gender Identity?
As the polar opposites of heterosexual & homosexual, or to use more evolved terms Gay & Straight, were perceived to be the ONLY options not so long ago. It would seem clearly a comparison could be drawn, between binary gender identities.
That being binary male at one end of the spectrum, female at the other end.
Yet we know in a similar vein to the increased number of perceived LGBT people coming out in the 80s.
Our current climate is demonstrating an equivilant coming out of Transgender, Non Binary, Gender Non Conforming & Gender Queer/Diverse people.
This has created a similar climate of hostility, yet haven't we been here before?
Can history not inform & help us digest some differences, that do not have to be so divisive & devastating?
Similarly most would rightly agree that it's generally deemed unacceptable to express homophobic bias towards LGB people these days. A general consensus held in the workplace & society in general.
Yet seemingly Transgender, Non Binary & Gender diverse folx are not on a equivilant footing.
If Sexuality is regarded on a spectrum, as is well established understood as so, in all the major fields of Law, Education, Medicine and Psychotherapy; has a memo been missed here?!
How is this so different to Gender Identity?
Why is the hostility ridicule & shaming of Transgender people so ferocious. How is it acceptable to express solidarity with LGB folks, however Transgender/gender diverse folx are thrown under the bus?
Why are LGB jokes deemed quite rightly in very poor taste yet Trans memes "I identify as a wheelie bin" type rhetoric, is encouraged & applauded?
With the rise of social media, how can it be that LGB people are protected in the workplace from this level of ridicule from colleagues, yet Trans people are not?
They are expected to return to their desks everyday, subjected to Transphobia inside & outside of the workplace on social media, during coffee breaks, or just the general commentary "banter" of an average day in the office. However often those delivering the sling shots to their gender diverse colleagues, are ever so protective of their own vulnerabilities. In fact they would be the first in the HR que, if they felt anywhere near the level of anxiety & hostility their colleagues endure. This of course creates an immense strain on the mental health & economic security of Trans & gender diverse employees.
This is why education & training are so important to open up awareness & dialogue. So it is clear what the boundaries are for us all in respecting one another.
We as a society cannot pick & choose to benefit from workplace protections for ourselves & yet unwittingly drive our colleagues out of their jobs. That would be the ultimate discrimination surely?
Nonetheless it seems Transgender Non Binary & Gender Diverse folx are perceived in some environments & culturally as fair game.
So what's the difference why can LGB people self identify as Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Pansexual & be believed. Yet Transgender/Non-binary people are frequently not.
Current cases going through the courts are suggesting a Judge may need to approve Gender affirming medical treatment for young people going through these processes. I do hope they will consider the tragic & avoidable suicide statistics that accompany those, especially our youngsters, who are not supported in being able to live in a congruent Gender identity, wherever that may land on the spectrum.
In addition there are often accusations of jumping on the "Transtrender" bandwagon, the intensity of the discrimination, would surely not make such a fashion statement worth while!
Why is there not more informed consent available in this country, for people to be believed that they are who they say they are & who they know themselves to be?
The fear mongering reminiscent of the "we must protect our children" mentality in the 1980s has simply transfered to the Gender Identity debate.
There was a time not so long ago, when Gay people were not allowed to adopt children & as parents were viewed with suspicion & contempt. Thankfully times have changed & same sex families parenting arrangements have become integrated as an alternative family model, no better no worse than any other.
Clearly we understand so many things in our world using the spectrum model.
We understand conditions such as Autism Aspergers & Neurodiverse people are frequently on a spectrum.
That as already discussed Sexuality operates on a spectrum Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Pansexual etc
Disability also operates on a spectrum Learning Disabilities, Physical Disabilities, Invisible Disabilities & so on.
So why is Gender Identity any different? Yes there is a different process for some to medically Transition, that other groups don't require. However the concept of differing Gender Identities really is not new at all, it is just increasing in visibility & discussion.
In terms of legal transition we are still awaiting the Gender Recognition Act reforms despite great opposition. Similar to what we witnessed in the years leading up the repeal of Section 28 (2003).
We lag woefully behind many other progressive countries, in still not recognising Non-Binary identities & offering the Gender X option on formal identification Passports, Driving Licences etc. This is becoming increasingly common in a number of states in America, Washington State being the most recent, even under the current administration.
Yet our legal system has so far prevented this option, from being available to the few it would benefit, to no detriment to our society.
This legal opposition demonstrates the blinkered thinking that we historically witnessed & which the Gay Rights Movement & Stonewall collaberation sought to rectify. The changes our predecessors fought for to ensure there was equal recognition for Gay people to be able to adopt, get married, be protected from discrimination.
Why is this still so? When we have come so far in our understanding & acceptance of other minority identities?
Even within our own community, there are fragmentations of our unity, which is utterly heartbreaking. Small factions attempting to undermine & "other" Transgender, Non-Binary & Gender Non Conforming folx.
Yet history tells us the very beginings of the Gay Rights Movement began with our Trans siblings leading from the front, standing up to the authorities at the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969.
So why can we see Sexuality on a spectrum, yet the struggle to comprehend Gender Identity on an equivilant spectrum. This seems to currently define much of the mainstream thinking, resulting in equality remaining out of reach.
Why are all the laws & societies attitudes to LGB people so much more advanced & yet to Transgender people lag so far behind? These are questions that really need to be asked & more importantly answered.
I believe we will look back 20 or 30 years from now, in a very similar way to how we perceive the oppression of the 70's, 80's & let's not forget the 90's! Aghast shocked ashamed for the oppression many Transgender Non-Binary & Gender diverse people currently face.
I also see the tide turning little by little, I'm hopeful for the future.
We will all then have the opportunity to ask ourselves on this highly divisive & emotive issue of our time; were we in our social conscience, on the right side of history?
Therapist, Writer & Content Creator