Naming and shaming

In her powerful message on last night’s ‘writer, rights campaigner and raver’ Paris Lees named the biggest problem faced by transgender people  – the discrimination, bigotry and prejudice that is summed up in the word ‘transphobia’, meaning a strong aversion to trans people.

Paris gave a personal example: some people seem to think that they have the right, just because she is transgender, to ask intimate questions about her genitals. As she said, ‘that’s not OK’.

This invasive attitude is sometimes carried to extremes, ending in the brutal murder of the transgender person, simply because they are different, deaths that are commemorated annually now on Transgender Remembrance Day.

Paris argued that transphobia is one of the last, perhaps the last form of socially acceptable discrimination, not least because of ‘where the power structures lie’ – she is unaware, for example, of a single transgender MP in parliament.

The media too – a power structure in itself – has a poor record when it comes to reporting transgender people’s lives accurately and respectfully. This series of programmes is intended, in part, to address that, and three of the interviews were shown at the recent launch of Trans Media Watch’s Memorandum of Understanding at Channel 4. Paris was involved in that campaign to sign up the bigger players and improve media coverage of transgender people and issues.

Changing Attitude began to network with Trans Media Watch in the wake of the dreadful initial press reporting of the death of Sonia Burgess, and we wish to play our part in addressing what is a human issue.

Like Paris, we are shocked and saddened when religious people invoke the name of God to support discrimination against trans people – or any other vulnerable minority come to that.

When people state that it is against God’s will to be transgender, or wrong to transition, they often present these views as ‘strongly held religious convictions’. I’m sure we’re going to hear some of those tonight when Keith Tiller tells how his Christian beliefs prevented him from transitioning.

But strongly held religious convictions need unpacking. Are they true – to the Bible, to human experience, to God? Crucially, do they bring life to others or deal death?


  1. Erika Baker says

    I don’t know how to put this… of course it’s not ok to ask intimate personal questions of anyone, especially not if the question is perceived as hostile.
    But how else are people supposed to learn about the realities of transgendered people, about transisions etc? Even when they’re genuinely interested, chances are they’ve only heard of the she-males from the porn industry. OK, that’s not a good starting point – but what if it is where people actually start from?

    I’ve always found this a tricky balance in the gay debate. I am sick to death of having to go over the basics again and again – and being civil partnered bisexual I can’t count the number of times people mistake that for a constant orgy of threesomes going on in my house. Sometimes I have the patience to explain, other times I just get cross and ask them to look it up on Wiki… but most of the time I just despair at the ignorance and try not to take it personal.

    What is the right approach?

    • Christina Beardsley says

      Yes, that’s a question for Paris rather than for me but I assumed that she was hoping that the guy would want to get to know her as a person before asking that sort of question. She had been open about herself – and, as you indicate, the onus is usually on us to say far more about ourselves than a straight person would do, and to be sexualized and fantasized about as a consequence. If people genuinely want to be informed then it needs to be in setting or forum where the trans person feels safe.

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