One writer discusses some of the institutional barriers faced by trans people in the UK.
Transphobia exists in many forms. It can be deliberate, demonstrated through bullying, abuse, and violence, or it can be indirect, ingrained in institutions such as the NHS, universities, schools, and the police. Stonewall, a UK LGBTQ+ charity, report that 42% of LGBTQ+ students have hidden their identities at university due to fear of discrimination. This discrimination is a very real threat, with a third of transgender students reporting that they had been mistreated at university because of their gender identity.
With LGBTQ+ history month coming to an end, the question remains, does the UK have a transphobia problem?
During an interview with the Guardian, Paris Lees, a transgender activist, spoke of how difficult the transgender journey can be, with reference to the transphobia she has faced throughout her life. When her parents visited her school in an attempt to put a stop to the discrimination and rejection she experienced from her peers, they found that sadly “not much” could be done about it. When she consulted her GP to ask for support and advice around transitioning, she was told to wait for a letter from the gender clinic: “the letter they promised me never came”. She did, however, “manage to graduate from university, depression, and prostitution all at the same time.”
Sex work and substance abuse are extremely common amongst gender and sexually diverse communities. Often, sex work encourages and exacerbates drug use, as a means of coping. Unsurprisingly, this does not often have a happy ending. In recent years, 23-year-old Synestra De Courcy, a trans woman, lost her life as the result of a drug overdose. Before her unfortunate death, Synestra had reached out to the NHS for support through her transition, but after experiencing rejection, she felt her only option was to enter the world of sex work in order to afford the costly hormone therapy and surgical procedures she needed. Like so many other transgender individuals, she became dependent on substance abuse for her survival and lost her life as a result. She had, however, sought help for her GBL dependency (a substance that can alleviate depression and increase sexual performance), however, she was unable to get the help and guidance she needed.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Synestra’s mother said that recurrent rejection from the NHS played a part in this fatality. In the book Transition Denied, Synestra’s mother recounts examples of the transphobic abuse her daughter often encountered: “In my country, you would have your head cut-off” is just one example of this. When her daughter was raped on her way to a hotel, Synestra decided not to press charges as she felt that the police “aren’t there for people like [her]”. Synestra’s story is but one example of the tragedies that can occur as a result of both direct and indirect transphobia.
Indirect transphobia is often encountered by those trans people who opt to engage with institutions like the NHS, or the police. One student at the University of Glasgow spoke to The Glasgow Guardian about the rejection they have experienced from the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS), the government agency responsible for university funding. The postgraduate student has been left without funding due to a change of national insurance number after a gender transition and name change, which has resulted in six months without any funding for living costs or course fees during the pandemic. The student described the frustration of being forced to repeatedly come out to university staff and strangers via telephone calls to SAAS when trying to resolve the situation.
Due to a fear of transphobia, transgender individuals often choose to live in “stealth”, meaning that they do not disclose their transgender identity in the hope of escaping their former life to live authentically. Being forced to come out often results in an exacerbation of mental health issues, due to a fear of discrimination. The National Transgender survey in 2015 reported that one in six trans people had lost their job, and up to 88% refused equal treatment from government agencies for being transgender. It is understandable then, why trans people often decide to keep their identity private.
So, does the UK have a transphobia problem? Statistically and anecdotally, yes. There is, however, a thriving LGBTQ+ community at the University of Glasgow, allowing trans students the space to support one another through instances like the ones discussed. Inspired by the US conference on “Queering Psychedelics”, the University of Glasgow Psychedelic Society has spoken to The Glasgow Guardian about hopes to create an event around the potential benefits of psychedelics for conditions like depression, addiction, and PTSD, which often occur because of discrimination and transphobia.