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Dear cis people: Your dehumanising opinions on trans rights are not more important than trans people’s lives

Vic Parsons July 17, 2020
YouGov polling on attitudes towards transgender people is dehumanising

Transgender people and their supporters gather in Parliament Square to protest against potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act on 04 July, 2020 in London, England. (WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/ Getty)

Data company YouGov has done a new set of polls about public opinion towards trans people.

The new research covers attitudes towards trans men and women in various scenarios that will be familiar to anyone who has followed the increasingly hostile debate about trans lives in the UK.

It comes as fears about the future of trans rights in the UK peak, ahead of an expected Tory announcement on the Gender Recognition Act and after months of anxiety for the trans community.

For years, the stories told about trans lives and the framing of the debate about our rights have been dominated by cisgender politicians, commentators and activists, with misinformation and bigotry stoked by a transphobic media.

(An important note: non-binary trans people are excluded from this YouGov polling, as we are from most public conversations about trans lives and from any kind of legal recognition or protection – even though a recent government survey on LGBT+ people found we make up more than half of Britain’s trans population.)

First up for YouGov was settling the straightforward question of whether those polled “believe” trans people to be who we say we are. Always good to check – trans people have this terrible habit of evaporating unless an audience maintains its belief in our existence.

And, of course, whether or not trans men and women should be allowed to play sports, use public bathrooms and changing rooms were all covered.

Handily, this was all broken down into various demographics: we are encouragingly told that women, Labour voters and younger people are all more “trans friendly”.

I can’t speak for anyone else in the trans community, but I’m sick and tired of cis people’s opinions about whether I “really” am the gender I say I am, whether and how I should have to “prove” this before being able to have documents with the right gender marker on them, and whether it’s OK or not for me to pee in public.

As many trans people have argued, for years, and with more eloquence and poise than I can muster in this moment: sometimes we just need to pee. It’s not a crime. This endless policing of our bodies serves no one.

The YouGov poll on people’s attitudes towards trans people also does a little breakdown of opinion towards trans people in public spaces based on the genitals of the trans person in question.

Questions like this, which separate us into “pre” and “post” transition, fail to recognise that it takes several years to access transition-related healthcare on the NHS. That medical transition is different things to different people; medical transition is not the same as being transgender. That some people have good reasons for transitioning, and some people have good reasons for not transitioning – almost like, and forgive me for being so bold, trans people aren’t a homogenous group.

What do cisgender people think about the fact that it takes several years to get treatment for gender dysphoria? I’d love to know. If this could be broken down by voting intention in the next general election that’d be great, ta.

Polls like this fail also to acknowledge the very real-life impact of continuous polls on transgender people ourselves. Rudely, no one asked me if I wanted to wake up this morning to find out what percentage of the great British public supports my existence.

At a time when transphobic hate crime has spiked by a genuinely scary 81 per cent in one year; when six Black trans women were found dead in nine days; when we are spat at in the supermarkets…. does it really matter what percentage of Leave voters think trans men should be allowed to play on men’s sports teams?

The relentless debate about trans lives in the media and in polls is dehumanising. It’s demeaning. And it’s dangerous – surely, I don’t need to explain the links between transphobic headlines and transphobic violence.

Public attitudes to trans people may be a sexy, attention-grabbing PR move for a polling company – but what about the next time someone calls me a tranny in the street? No one cares then. No cis person has ever stepped in when I’ve faced transphobia in real life.

And that brings me to the things this poll doesn’t capture, which are some frankly alarming omissions: what do transgender men and women think of the rest of the population?

Do we want to share public changing rooms with the older, male Tory voters who are most likely to think we should be banned from those changing rooms?

Is it safe for young trans girls to be exposed to those of the British public who believe they must prove their gender with medical evidence?

Polling the majority of the public on the rights and lives of a minority is a terrible way of going about things.

It suggests that cis people’s opinions are of equal value to trans people’s lives. It implies that trans people’s rights should be decided based on cis people’s feelings. It makes it seem like whether or not I’m allowed to pee in a public bathroom is an acceptable topic for debate, as opposed to a basic human need.

We don’t stop existing when those aged 65 and over don’t believe in us. My desire to play tennis doesn’t diminish or strengthen based on the fact that YouGov didn’t poll enough Lib Dem voters to be able to conclusively say if they would or would not support me doing so.

And every time cis people are made to feel that their opinions on this are more important than trans people’s, our lives are made harder in myriad ways. Where is the poll delving into that?

More: gender recognition act, single-sex spaces, trans rights, transition, transphobia, YouGov

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