Transgender Awareness Week

09 November 2023

Karl Rutlidge is a trans man and a Methodist Minister. In this blog to mark Transgender Awareness Week, Karl shares a personal view on how it feels to have your gender become part of political debate.

When the results of the 2021 Census were published, it emerged that there are around 262,000 people who describe themselves as trans, which is likely an underestimate as I know of many wary of sharing that information with a government agency. That works out at around 0.5% of the population of the United Kingdom. It may therefore surprise you to discover that, as of mid-November, there have been around 31,000 news articles that have been published about us in the UK in 2023. That works out at one article for every eight trans people.

The vast majority of these have been negative, and many contain outright misinformation and pure scaremongering. We are routinely cast as sexual predators and/or enablers of cisgender male violence. We are told we are rejecting biological reality, and are seeking to push medical transition upon any child who does not constantly conform to gender stereotypes. We are depicted as denying women and children safety, dignity and opportunities in everything from prisons to park runs, and many opinion pieces imply that everyday language cannot now be used without the person being ‘cancelled’ because of trans folk. The similarities with prejudice thrown at lesbians and gay men in the 1980s are striking, showing up how much transphobia is recycled homophobia.

Given this background and the increasing weaponisation of our lives, bodies and identities by politicians pushing a divisive ‘culture wars’ agenda, I was dreading the Conservative Party conference. However, the reality was worse than I expected. It was stated that, despite a Freedom of Information request made to NHS trusts showing there have been precisely zero incidents in hospitals caused by trans women, they should be excluded from female wards. Some echoed these fallacious claims, which if enacted would also mean trans men like me being forced to used female wards. The comments strongly implied that the safety and dignity of trans people does not matter.

Others spoke dismissing the reality of trans people’s lives, as well as showing ignorance of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which allows trans people to obtain a new birth certificate with the correct name and gender (note, this has nothing to do with access to single-sex spaces, which is covered by the Equality Act 2010 and earlier legislation, and is not dependent upon holding a Gender Recognition Certificate). Our leaders set the tone for much of our public discourse, so to see trans people being used to score cheap political points was more than disappointing, especially as the government’s own data shows hate crimes against trans people continuing to rise rapidly.

At the Methodist Conference this year, we made a commitment to work towards becoming a justice-seeking Church and were reminded of how this means standing with those who are discriminated against and pushed to the margins of society. Now, I know from my own experience that this is a lot harder to do than to say, so I was really heartened to see how the Methodist Church responded to the words used at the party conference. The statement it put out was, in my view, genuinely courageous given the backlash that almost inevitably follows any affirmation of trans lives, and the Vice President of Conference’s prayer was beautiful, heartfelt and moving. In the midst of a scary situation, it was so very encouraging to know that the Church I serve had my back, and the Methodist media team were lovely when I found myself approached for comment by the Press Association.

These are tough times in which to be an LGBT+ person in the UK. As we approach a general election, I do not doubt that even more transphobic culture wars messaging will be pushed out, and lest anyone think this piece is too party political, the Labour Party’s front bench have been disappointingly unwilling to use their voice to counter the government narrative. Some in the party have amplified the language of groups and individuals who have signed a declaration calling for trans-specific healthcare and legal recognition to be removed, which is already happening in various US states.

It is not pleasant to feel reduced to an ‘issue’, a ‘question’ or a ‘problem’, instead of a person made in the image and likeness of God. Yet, at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the sure and certain hope that love wins, and prejudice in all its forms will never have the last word. I just pray that those in positions of power in media and politics alike will learn to see our common humanity, not click-bate or opinion polls, when they speak or write about trans people.