As many of you will know, Neil Gaiman and I have been friends for a long time. We first met in 1984, when I was still living as male. Neil is also a long-time friend of Roz Kaveney. You may therefore be somewhat surprised to learn that he’s often accused of transphobia. So often, in fact, that he had felt the need to address the issue in public.
There are many reasons why this happens. Partly it is because Wanda in A Game of You encounters a lot of transphobia in her story. There will always be readers who can’t tell the difference between a writer portraying discrimination by his characters and a writer who shares those characters’ beliefs. Also, Roz is a high profile trans activist, and as such she and her friends are always prone to being accused of transphobia by people who have a “one true way” attitude to their activism. Heck, there are probably people out there who think I’m transphobic. I have certainly been told that I’m Doing Trans WRONG!
So I want to spend a little bit of time looking at what real transphobia is like. Last week, on the same day that Neil wrote that Tumblr post, the Scottish Transgender Alliance released this report (PDF) which looks at the mental health of trans people in the UK. I was one of the respondents to the survey, and I’ve corresponded with one of the authors, Louis Bailey, as I had hoped to book him as a speaker for LGBT History Month last year.
When they say “mental health”, they don’t mean “these people are crazy because they are trans”, they mean the same thing that anyone would mean if they did a survey of the mental health of soldiers on active duty, of students sitting exams, or pretty much any group whom one might think has a stressful life. Let’s take a look at some of the results.
70% of the participants felt that transitioning had improved their lives for the better, while only 2% felt that it had made things worse. Satisfaction rates with various types of medical treatment, including hormones and gender surgery, were even higher; all over 85%, with the numbers dissatisfied always below 4%. Nevertheless, 81% avoided certain social situations out of fear of the consequences; 37% had experienced threats of or actual violence; 25% had been forced to move away from home. 14% had been harassed by the police simply for being trans.
88% of respondents reported suffering from depression at some point in their lives. 53% reported that they had self-harmed. 84% had considered suicide at least once. 35% had attempted suicide; 11% in the past year.
A government paper on suicide prevention published today dismissed trans people as a significant problem area, noting only that there are “indications” that there “may” be higher rates of suicide amongst that group.
Professional help for trans people is patchy at best. 62% of those who had attended NHS gender clinics reported some negative experiences from doing so. 11% felt that attending the clinic had been a negative experience overall, while 33% said they were afraid to discuss mental health issues with the clinic. 30% had experienced a healthcare professional refuse them treatment for trans-related issues. Over 50% were told by a health professional that treatment could not be provided because the professional did not know enough about trans issues. Can you imagine any other condition where GPs would refuse treatment rather than educate themselves or refer to a specialist because the condition was unfamiliar to them?
20% of respondents reported wanting to self-harm as a direct result of their treatment at the hands of the health services.
I could go on, but I’ll end the numbers by looking at responses to the question, “How supportive have the following been?” The percentages in “Very supportive” for key groups are as follows: parents 28%; extended family 17%; religious community 5%; non-trans friends 43%; trans friends 71%. Most trans people, of course, don’t have that many trans friends, so you can see why non-trans friends are so important. That’s why I very much value people like Neil, Kim Newman, Marc Gascoigne, Dave Langford, Martin Hoare and everyone else who was a friend before my transition, and has stuck by me though it.
Of course supportive friends can turn into supportive parents. After Neil published his Tumblr post his elder daughter, Holly, posted this about her life partner. I don’t know Holly at all — I’m not sure if we have even met — but I wish her and her partner all the best for their relationship. Sadly, they will need lots of love and support.
While I was at the Miéville conference on Friday I was scanning Twitter for reactions from my fellow attendees and another Scottish Trans Alliance tweet caught my attention. It was a report of the death, by liver failure resulting from a paracetamol overdose, of Natasha Lauren Brown, a student at Staffordshire University. She was 20 years old. According to this report Brown “began a downward spiral after she was taunted and beaten.” Her parents are quoted as saying, “We’d just like to say we strongly believe the mental health services could have done more to help her than they did.”
Brown’s name won’t be included in the memorials at this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance because that is only for people whose lives are actively cut short by the violence of others. If we included all of the suicides, all of the people who died from issues related to poverty, homelessness and desperation, then the numbers memorialized would be significantly higher.
And that, dear readers, is what transphobia is all about. It is not a matter of authors failing to make trans characters sufficiently heroic, or about being trans in the “wrong” way. It is about being abandoned by friends and family; about institutional discrimination, even by those whose job it is to help you; it is about being bullied, beaten and killed. Until those things stop, we should be grateful for all of the support that we get.