Juno Dawson: ‘There Are Only 262k Trans People In The UK – So Why Are Politicians Talking About Us?’

As the election looms, author Juno Dawson calls for politicians to stop using trans people's bodies as a political battleground.

by Juno Dawson |
Updated on

All the way back in 1972, Stanley Cohen outlined the stages of a moral panic. First, something or someone is defined as a threat to values or interests. Then this threat is monstered by the media prompting a rapid build-up of public concern. There is then a response from authorities or opinion makers until either the panic recedes or results in social changes.

In regards to the rights of trans people in the United Kingdom, we’re evidently at Stage 4 – the part where politicians are formulating their ‘hot takes’ as we hurtle towards the general election tomorrow. Last week, Labour leader Keir Starmer spasmed a response to various headlines about trans lives, with Labour politicians fluctuating from transphobic dog whistles (‘protecting children and women’ suggests trans women are not women, and that trans youth are undeserving of protection) to promising a slightly streamlined medical process to speed up the legal transition process should they win the election.

Watching this play out in the right-wing media has been depressing and concerning for trans people. We knew it was coming and we knew it’d get ugly. Even the Green Party, while taking a rather more progressive stance on trans lives, harbours a number of candidates opposed to advances in trans rights.

What’s especially galling is why politicians are even talking about us. In the 2021 census there were only 262,000 trans people living in the UK. That’s compared to 2.5 million vegans, but I’ve not heard any politician talking about how dairy-free products are a threat to cows and farmers.

I don’t understand why Starmer isn’t saying that. Why is he dancing to the beat of a Tory drum? Why is he entering into frankly abominable discourse about genitalia? Is he, too, using the moral panic to score a few votes?

I fully appreciate why the Conservatives need trans people on the front pages. They have fourteen years of austerity, a deluge of sleaze, and a failing NHS to hide. At this point, moral panic about trans people, refugees and benefits claimants are all they’ve got.

Labour have promised to introduce a trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban and recently announced they would ‘modernise, simplify and reform’ the gender-recognition process. But in the same breath Keir Starmer is engaging with transphobic billionaires and suggesting trans women with gender recognition certificates - like myself -  should not have access to single sex spaces. That's terrifying! Where am I meant to pee at Cineworld? In my popcorn?

His words, worryingly for a lawyer, contradict the existing Equality Act and show a lack of understanding on how the law protects transgender people. I don't speak for all trans people, but it's very hard to trust Labour at all at this point.

The legal and medical process for trans people in the UK is way behind our neighbours in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Malta and much of Western Europe. Back in 2015 I had to wait almost a year to be seen by a specialist consultant. Now, that wait would have increased to something like three years. In that time, my heroic GP was unable to prescribe the HRT I needed to start to my medical journey. That’s the exact same HRT that any not-trans woman can access with ease.

This gatekeeping is borne out of the insidious assumption that trans people are delusional or likely to ‘change our minds’. Whilst that does occasionally happen, such cases are vanishingly rare, statistically speaking. I want you to imagine going to your GP in great discomfort only to be told ‘we’ll get to you in three or four years’. The wait is agonising, trust me, and I’ve lost friends to suicide while they languished on that waiting list. I’ve not heard a politician acknowledge that.

In their desperation to appease a vocal minority on Twitter, Labour is upholding this painful and draconian system. Their proposal, while vague, suggests trans people will still be queueing for many years to see a specialist at one of the Gender Identity Clinics around the UK. To allow GPs - who know their patients far better than a faraway consultant – to initiate treatment would be ground-breaking. This, of course, wouldn’t impact anyone but the trans person themselves.

It’s worth noting here that some trans people cannot medically transition, or do not want to. Any woman knows the value of having autonomy over her body, and trans people must be awarded the same basic right.

I’m going to make life easier for politicians now. Here’s what I’d want to hear them say: ‘Trans people are a tiny minority group, and they are struggling like a lot of people are struggling in the UK. They are more likely to be unhomed or unemployed because of the discrimination they face. Like everyone in the UK, a chronically defunded NHS is failing them. I refuse to enter into tasteless debate about trans people’s bodies, it is beneath us.’

If you really, truly, think trans people are weird and icky, that’s prejudice, and I can’t help you with that. But, and I don’t know about you, I think all of the political parties could use an injection of kindness and compassion. I wish Labour had more of that to offer, the UK sorely needs it.

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