"Who are you to tell me who I am?"
Evan discusses Rishi Sunak's transphobia, and the Conservative government's increasing limitations on trans rights
The current political environment provokes immeasurable amounts of anxiety for many people. From my perspective as a trans person, this anxiety is rooted in a fundamental fear that I will not be recognised. 2023 alone has seen numerous attempts from the conservative government to limit trans rights. A key moment in this movement was Rishi Sunak’s comments at the Conservative Party Conference, where he stated that “we shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be… a man is a man and a woman is a woman, that’s just common sense”. Likely a move to appease both the party leadership and membership in the year before an election, Sunak’s comments are both insulting and terrifying to me.
Aside from the offensive tone of his comment, the idea that people are trying to be “any sex they want to be” indicates his complete misapprehension of gender dysphoria. Let me describe it for you Mr Sunak, it is not simply that you wake up one day and decide to change sex on a whim. Individual experiences differ of course, but from my perspective it was a lifelong understanding that who I was biologically did not match with how I felt, saw myself or dreamt I would be in the future. An understanding that became both more pronounced and more painful to bear. My decision to transition was not done on a whim. Though if it were, it would still have been my right. We should not be bullied into thinking that people can dictate what parts of our identity are permissible.
When Sunak stands on a podium and says these things it is terrifying for those who it actually affects. He flippantly and purposefully insinuates that there is no divide between gender and biological sex. In doing so he disregards the experiences and identity of people around the world, leaving us asking who are you to tell me who I am?
Using words like “bullied” also has a divisive effect. It divides people into groups – those with ‘common sense’ and those supposedly without it. From these binary positions it becomes harder and harder to have conversations and empathise with each other. As a trans person that is terrifying. Not only are my rights under attack, but I have to witness transphobia and hatred being peddled from social media, news outlets and even people in my daily life. People who simply do not understand what gender dysphoria is, learning about the subject from tabloid newspapers rather than the people that it actually concerns. These are some of the people who have their transphobic opinions shaped and emboldened by Sunak’s government.
The problem is that when Sunak says these things on a podium, it is not simply an insult but a calculated attack. As a person I am entitled to my identity, as well as my human and political rights. I am also entitled to my healthcare – whatever that may be. Whether this healthcare includes medical procedures, hormones, mental health care or any other service offered to help ease the pain of gender dysphoria. However, for this healthcare and my access to it to exist, I have to be recognised as somebody with political rights. As a person this should be guaranteed. However, Sunak’s comments reflect a systematic effort to make being transgender, non-binary or someone experiencing gender dysphoria an obstacle to the exercising of these rights. 2023 has witnessed efforts by the government to make a mockery of the 2010 Equality Act, ensuing that its provisions against sex based discrimination apply only to those whose gender and biological sex are one. Whilst the government may argue that this is a beneficial protection for some groups, its enforcement would be highly impractical and likely not achieve its purported aim. It would however be a statement that transgender people do not matter and that our rights are disposable in the right political environment. The aim of the act was to promote the equality of people simply because they are people. We should be working on the societal change needed for this so that no group is at risk of discrimination.
Ten years ago when I was in the midst of realising who I was and what that meant, I was terrified but hopeful that society was progressing towards being one which I did not have to fear. However, today I feel under threat. I worry that in the next ten years I will not be able to access my healthcare and that I will be less and less protected by law. I worry that transphobia will become rampant and that it will be harder for all people to empathise with each other’s experiences. That is the road which Rishi Sunak and his government are heading down.