On being a trans student, and why the NUS should have a full time trans officer

Over the next couple of days, the National Union of Students’ National Conference will decide whether or not to allocate funds for a full time paid officer to work on trans issues. Jess Bradley talks about her experiences as a trans student and her involvement in the NUS, making the argument for the NUS to support trans students by voting yes to a full-time trans officer.

Content notes for: sex work, transphobia, sexual assault, outing, TERFs, vague reference to suicide

When I was 18 I started having sex with men for money. I started because, despite my having a part time job at the time, I found myself having to make the choice between eating and paying the bus fare to university. Like many trans students, I had a sometimes strained and sometimes non-existent relationship with my parents, and couldn’t ask them for help. At the time I was newly out as trans, and taking an engineering course at Bradford University. Nobody on my course would talk to me or want to work with me in group projects because I was trans. When they did, people asked me why I would do “a man’s subject like engineering if I wanted to be a woman”. Eventually, like too many trans students, I dropped out of my course.

This was a rough time for me. Fortunately for me, one of the sabbatical officers self-defined as trans and I came to them for support. We quickly became friends; if it wasn’t for them I’m not sure I would be alive today to be honest. I ended up switching over to a new course at Manchester University where I could get a bursary. I fast found a vibrant queer community there, but still struggled, almost failing and dropping out of this course after I was sexually assaulted on campus one too many times.

Still, I scraped through my undergrad and managed to get onto a masters course. In the first week of term, Julie Bindel was scheduled to turn up for an event on campus. I wrote a facebook status about it, which the university newspaper stole it as a quote; outing me as both trans and a sex worker to 80,000 students across Manchester at 3 different institutions without my consent. Now I am a PhD student at the same institution, and occasionally teach undergraduates. I wonder how many of them had read that newspaper article, and how many have connected their teacher with the sensationalist things that were written about me.

I consider myself pretty privileged; my experiences as a trans student are in no way unique nor are they uncommon, and many of my trans peers haven’t got into further or higher education because of the transphobia they face. During my time as a student I have been an active member of the NUS LGBT Campaign, because I want to use the privilege I have to open the doors for more trans people to get into education.

The NUS LGBT Campaign does some fantastic work for trans students, but I still feel like an outsider within the campaign sometimes. I’ve seen a lot of transphobia within the campaign in my time, and there a still a lot of barrier for trans people who want to get involved. Each year it feels like it’s a gamble as to whether the campaign will take trans issues seriously, or be able to understand our issues properly, as there is no guaranteed full time officer representing trans students.

I’m not suggesting that what happened to me would not have happened if there was a full time trans officer, simply that trans students on our campuses and in our communities need more support. And that support needs to come from someone who is trans, someone who understands our issues, and has the resources and support to focus on our issues all year round. So, if you are at the NUS National Conference this year, please act in solidarity with trans students and vote for a full time trans students officer. Thankyou.

 

Trans Health Rants

From 17th to 19th March Action for Trans Health attended the National Union of Students annual LGBT campaign conference. On the second day of conference we organised a fringe for delegates to share their experiences of trying to access healthcare as a trans person – the Trans Health Rants fringe. The fringe proved popular and successful, and we agreed to meet again on the third day to continue sharing, Francis Myerscough writes:

(Content-note: erasure of trans experience, cissexist healthcare experiences (including but not limited to medical transition) – no details, more writing about talking about healthcare.)

This was organised to provide a trans-only space to share with each other our stories of accessing healthcare, be it transition-related or no. We thought this might be useful for multiple reasons.

Firstly, it can be very validating to share these experiences with a room and to not have them questioned; there was no (hopefully-)well-meaning-but-ignorant cis person in the corner to pipe up “but what if these are all secondary symptoms of your transness”. In sharing our stories and listening to those of others we form the bonds of solidarity that we are so often denied by cissexist society, both by the medical professions and the lay population.

And knowing there is that belief makes it easier to tell the stories. When we’ve stayed quiet about our experiences for so long, to be able to share them is a cathartic experience. So there’s also this therapeutic potential.

Finally, these acts of sharing have the potential to serve as a record of the routine health injustices faced by trans people. While the fringes were not minuted, we agreed as a group that ATH would start a Trans Health Rants blog which trans folk could submit our stories to. These would then be published anonymously online. In this way, we can continue to share our experiences in a space maintained and moderated by other trans folk so hopefully that sense of validation and catharsis will still be there. As a bonus this also means we have a record of the injustices we face that we can direct others to for use in organising campaigns.

You can find the Trans Health Rants blog here. Submissions are anonymous; they just require a title, any content warnings, the rant itself, and any tags. Rant away!

Trans people in immigration detention centres

Action for Trans Health recently put in a series of Freedom of Information requests to the Home Office regarding trans people currently detained in immigration detention centres, Jess Bradley writes. According to the Home Office, as of 27th March there were 5 inmates in detention centres who the Home Office recognised as being trans. Over the last 3 years, there has been 21 inmates recorded as being trans. Given the relatively narrow definition of trans used by the Home Office in their record keeping, it is likely that this number will be higher. We had a look over the protocols governing the “care” of trans inmates in detention centres and compared them to the equivalent protocol for UK prisoners. Here is what we found:

content notes for: incarceration, searches, misgendering

Accommodation

As with UK prisoners, a detainee with a Gender Recognition Certificate (or equivalent) is required to be housed with other prisoners of the same gender. Should a trans detainee not have a GRC (which will probably be most of them) a “multi-disciplinary risk assessment” will be completed to decide where the detainee will be housed. Should the detainee’s request to be housed with people of their actual gender (as opposed to their legal one) be accepted, they will have their own private room.

Searches

Both UK prisoners and detainees who have a GRC will be searched by staff of the same gender. If a person has not undergone any medical interventions, then they will be searched by staff of the same sex that they were assigned at birth. If a person has started medical interventions but doesn’t have a GRC, the institution will make a judgement call as to what is the most appropriate course of action (reading between the lines, this will probably be based on what a person’s genitalia is assumed to look like). It is not allowed to conduct a search in order to ascertain a person’s sex / gender.

Access to packers, binders, breast forms, etc.

The protocol allows trans people in detention centres to wear wigs, packers, binders, and breast-forms. Unlike the protocol for UK prisoners, these do not have to be provided by the institution, so it is likely that many trans detainees will be forced to make do with makeshift equipment/prosthetics.

Health care

Worryingly the immigration detention centre protocols do not explicitly mandate access to hormones and other transition related healthcare. Instead, they say that healthcare treatment is a “clinical matter for the healthcare team at the centre in which the detainee is located”. The fact that the protocol does not explicitly mandate detentions centres to provide access to transition related healthcare when the equivalent UK prisoners protocol does implies that at best access to healthcare is inconsistent across different detention centres. We have sent follow-up Freedom of Information requests asking for more details regarding what access trans detainees have to transition related healthcare.

A note on non-binary

As the UK doesn’t officially recognise non-binary as a gender, there are no provisions for non-binary people incarcerated at detention centres or UK prisons.

Transgender staff

We also completed a freedom of information request for the number of trans staff working at immigration detention centres. The Home Office said they did not keep that information.

___

It is worth noting that the above describes what should happen in theory, rather than in practice. Immigration detention centres are known to be rife with human rights abuses, so it is likely that trans inmates will face significant hardship. We are going to take further steps to find out more information about the trans detainees and to act in solidarity with them.

At Action for Trans Health, we do not consider the environment within the detention centres (or in prisons) conducive to adequate, timely, or empowering trans health care, and adopt a broadly abolitionist approach to their use. We believe that organising for a liberating trans healthcare system necessarily involves getting involved in issues many people feel are not strictly “trans issues”. After all, trans people are not just trans people: we are also disabled, black, women, homeless, sex workers, and asylum seekers. Trans people have a stake in all progressive movements. On that note, please consider signing this petition to keep lesbian asylum seeker Aderonke Apata from being deported.

 

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Help us to provide access to essential healthcare today.

Transitional Demands

Jess Bradley and Francis Myerscough write about trans time, transition, and demands, as part of Action for Trans Health’s series on trans mental health and activism.

____

Time works differently for trans people.

And its not because we are always late to things. (Although this might be a factor).

Cis people might not notice it, but we live in a different time zone. To them, our words, behaviours, our actions all happen in the present tense. To us, though, cis people sound… glitchy. Like hearing a CD skip ever so slightly or catching the delay between audio and video on an old laptop.

Trans people are time-travellers. (This explains why we never look, nor act, our age).

____

Everytime I cross the road I expect to be run over. I’ve never been run over before, and “rationally” I know its unlikely to happen in the future. But still I find myself either sprinting across the road when its quiet, or waiting to cross the road with the pregnant lady so no-one ploughs me over. My obsession over road crossing is just one area in which my anxiety from living in a transphobic society coalesces outwardly into something which other people might recognise as weird.

For most trans people I know, anxiety is a constant companion. Sometimes it comes over us like the photo-negative of a sugar rush, intense, whilst other times it sits quietly but presently in the background. And when its not there, we anticipate its arrival.

____

We live in a time of anticipation.

We anticipate misgendering, perplexed looks, ignorance, transphobia. Even when what we anticipate does not occur (yet), we act as if it has, and it becomes an inevitability.

I think it has something to do with waiting lists. My whole life seems to be about waiting lists nowadays (even if I am not on one yet – I am waiting to be on one). We are kept in a constant state of anticipation: waiting for a letter or phonecall from the GIC, a prescription, a surgery date…

We are used to waiting, orientated towards the future like iron filings lining themselves up towards a magnet. We are focussed on the future whether that’s the future where we have already had access to healthcare treatment, or the future where the (seemingly inevitable) acts of transphobia have already taken place. Because we are always waiting for this future the present seems compressed somehow, like our lives are in limbo.

____

But looking to the future can also be positive.

Creating change requires us to live in a state of anticipation. It seeks to build a politics of hopefulness rather than of dread, preparedness rather than an anxiousness. Its not a naive hopefulness that ignores the very real harm that can come to us, but a strategic hopefulness. One that recognises that the way we think about the future has an impact on the present.

This isn’t about positive thinking or some individualistic bullshit. Its about the importance of making collective and radical demands. Demands are anticipatory. They stretch out, open palmed to the multitude of possible futures ahead of us and beckon them closer. They turn the ambiguity of anxious anticipation into a foundation that can be built upon.

What are your demands?

____

 

We can now accept donations!

Help us to provide access to essential healthcare today.

Paid positions available on our funding panel

As part of Action for Trans Health’s work, we raise money to give small grants to UK-based trans individuals in order to help facilitate their access to health care. As demand for grants will always outweigh supply, grants will be allocated to those with the greatest need. We are looking to recruit three people to sit on our funding panel whose job it will be to allocate grants from our solidarity fund to applicants.

The successful candidates will be organised, work well with others, and be able to demonstrate an understanding of systemic oppressions such as racism, ableism, and trans-misogyny. We are particularly keen on hearing from women, people of colour, disabled people, non-binary people, working class people and people from other marginalised groups within the community. We are only looking for applicants who define as trans or have a trans history.

The panel will meet remotely via skype/google hangouts to allocate funds to applicants a 1-4 times a year (dependant on how much money we manage to raise). It is expected that these meetings will take approximately 3-5 hours. For this time, you will be remunerated at £10 per hour. Each term of office lasts one year.

If successful, it is expected that you will not be applying for a grant from the solidarity fund. It is also expected that you will declare any conflicts of interest (for example, if you know that friends or family members are applying to the fund) before each meeting. We will not be publishing the names of people elected to the funding panel and we will keep your application details for this role confidential within Action for Trans Health’s board of trustees.

Please fill in this application form to apply for the role.

Application Deadline: Monday 23nd of March 2015 at 9pm.
If you have any other questions about the role please contact info@actionfortranshealth.org.uk

We can now accept donations!

Help us to provide access to essential healthcare today.

Non binary survey: preliminary results

A few months ago we asked you to help us out with some important research looking into the experiences of non-binary people accessing healthcare. Since the survey ended, we have tallied up your answers, coded them, about it and started making some preliminary recommendations for a non-binary protocol. We wanted to ensure this process is as open and accountable as possible, so we are making the preliminary results available now and opening up a period of consultation to crowdsource recommendations for policy. If you have thoughts about what needs to go into the non-binary protocol, please get in touch by filling in this form or emailing info[at]actionfortranshealth.org.uk

content note: discussion of medical transition, some quotes discussing transphobia and non-binary erasure, some transphobic slurs mentioned

A note on methodology and statistical significance: the participants for this piece of research were recruited from Action for Trans Health through social media and personal contacts. This is not a random sample and as such should not be seen as representative of the entire nonbinary community, but instead as a useful piece of research into the dominant narratives underpinning non-binary peoples experience(s) of accessing healthcare services. The results are shown below.

If you find the images in this post difficult to read, you can download the results in powerpoint and spreadsheet formats. All data is anonymous.

number s nbs

gender identity nbs

 

specific id nbs

sex at birth nbs

healthcare nbs

concerns nbs

denied treatment nbs

service used nbs

out nhs nbs

nhs exp out nbs

experiences nhs nbs

out private nbs

experiences private nbs

experience private out nbs

self med nbs

self med exp nbs

self med reasons nbs

self med exp quotes nbs

campaign ideas nbs

campaign quotes nbs

conc 1 fin nbs

conc 2 nbs

 

Peter Tatchell, no platform, and an abuse of power

I just walked out of a talk by Peter Tatchell at the LGBT History Conference in Manchester. He was talking about colonialism, and I was hoping to ask him some uncomfortable questions about his own colonial attitude to working with LGBT groups in the global south (many prominent LGBT African activists refuse to work with him because he is so paternalistic), and about his views that many people consider islamophobic*. Unfortunately I didnt get that far, because he started off his talk with a lengthy discussion of the recent transphobia scandal he has been embroiled in, and how trans people were making him so anxious because they have been tweeting about the open letter. As one of the few openly and visibly trans people in the room, I felt eyes shift to me, and I got up and left.

Peter Tatchell had recently signed an open letter to the Guardian condemning student’s unions no platforming trans- and sex worker- exclusionary feminists such as Julie Bindel. The letter is littered with mistruths of recent “no platforming” scandals, such as suggesting that the comedienne Kate Smurfwaite being cancelled by Goldsmiths uni comedy society has more to do with institutionalised silencing of feminists than the fact they only managed to sell 8 tickets. This and the other claims of the letter are quite successfully debunked by Sarah Brown’s blog on the matter.

For students unions and societies, no platform is literally the equivalent of saying “hey, we arent going to invite you to speak, and we’re not going to speak at the same event as you”. This is not a free speech issue, no-one is stopping Julie Bindel et al. from speaking in general, they literally are just not inviting her to speak at events in their own building. Its like me turning up to a complete strangers houseparty and being offended that I wasnt invited. No-one owes anyone an invitation or a platform.

Most of the people signing that letter are academics or activists who frequently get platforms to speak at conferences and events in universities and students unions, and no doubt found it easy to get their open letter in one of the countries largest newspapers. As people who are familiar with the university world, all of the signatories will know the difference between students unions and the university itself. Yet the letter seems to imply that its the university institutions who are silencing feminist critique, rather than the student body organising to make universities a safer space for students who are trans or engage in sex work. This is a convenient way of implying that trans people have a lot more power than we actually do.

Tatchell had been invited to speak at two sessions across the weekend of the LGBT history conference.  Across the whole conference, the T seemed to fall off end of the acronym a fair bit and very few sessions seemed to address trans history. Tatchell decided to use his platform at the conference to talk about how trans people, by tweeting about the letter, were making him anxious. He positioned himself as a defender of free speech, against a hoard of nasty trans people. But the thing is, Peter, free speech works both ways. It applies just as equally to our tweets as it does about your access national newspapers or big conferences.

*I would word this more strongly but unfortunately Peter Tatchell is notoriously litigious. He loves free speech, that guy.

– Jess Bradley

 

Trans people are anxious

In the first of our series on mental health, Jess Bradley talks about trans people, anxiety, and the need for democratic trans healthcare.

[Content note: general discussion of mental health. anxiety, violence, medical gatekeeping, and family stuff. No in-depth discussion of experiences]

Trans people are anxious. We are anxious at home, we are anxious at work, we are anxious at school. We are anxious on the bus, anxious at the Job Centre, anxious when praying. We are anxious in case our friends mispronoun us, anxious whether the presence or lack of stubble might affect how we are seen, anxious if strangers will shout at us in the street, or worse.

Anxiety dominates our lives and we are anxious about that. We are anxious about seeking help for our anxiety because it might impact on our ability to access healthcare. We are anxious about being not being “trans enough” when we don’t fit the neatly packaged medical narrative set out for us because it might impact on our ability to get healthcare. We are anxious about explaining our lives to medical gatekeepers who have the power to refuse us healthcare and we are anxious that our anxiety about that will give them reason to.

We are anxious because we live precarious lives. When we work we are one transphobic customer away from “causing a fuss” and losing our jobs. When we are on benefits we are one incident away from a sanction. When we live at home we are one angry reaction to a mispronouning from being out on the streets. When we are out on the streets we are one dickhead away from being beaten up. When we go to the psychiatrist we are one misplaced answer from being refused treatment. When we are in the closet, it feels like we are one decision away from either starting an an amazing authentic life, or ruining the one we have. When we are out of the closet, we are one bad reaction from a ruined day / week / year. When we are stealth we are one “curious” person away from potentially destroying the life we have built for ourselves. When we are disabled, queer, a woman, nonbinary, or a person of colour, we have to contend with our anxiety as a result of transphobia and the anxieties from others projected onto us through ableism, queerphobia, misogyny, nonbinary erasure, and racism.

We are anxious and we are taught that that is our fault. That we are too sensitive for being upset when a friend accidently misgenders us, too irrational when we are scared to leave our house for fear of strangers reactions, and too unreasonable for being angry about it. That it’s our fault for choosing this lifestyle, for messing with the natural order of things. If only we could pass better; if only we answered questions more politely; if only we had more money for treatment.

We need to recognise the reality of these problems: that they are systemic and not individual. We are anxious because we live under an economic system that treats everyone as disposable, and trans people as even more disposable. We are anxious because our healthcare system keeps our lives on hold for indefinite periods of time because the current project of dismantling the NHS and welfare system are overlaid on a wholesale disregard for our lives.  We are anxious because transphobia is deeply entwined with patriarchy and capital and because corporations profit from our anxiety.

As trans people we need to create a machine which fights anxiety. One which allows us to connect our personal experiences to the way in which society is structured. One which allows us to tell our stories; produces theories and practices based on our experiences of survival. One which creates unalienated, empowering spaces from which we organise for a better world for trans people and for everyone else.

But what do we fight for? What demands do we have, and to whom are we making these demands?

It’s clear that for many trans healthcare is an issue that causes our anxiety, either directly through our precarious access to treatment, or indirectly due to the effects that hormones, surgeries, and mental health treatment can have on the way we are allowed to operate in the world. Do we ask nicely for more money, less waiting time, less intrusive questions, from the people who represent and benefit from those systems of oppression? Or do we take a principled stand, refuse to engage with those in power and organise new systems and structures amongst ourselves?

It is clear that only asking nicely from those in power gives them a legitimacy they do not deserve. It is also clear that organising wholly outside the established structures would leave many behind, because our resources are unlikely to match the resources of the state and we can’t put our liberation on hold til after the revolution.

We need a demand which speaks both to those in power and to those at the grassroots. “Democratise Trans Healthcare Now!” is that demand. It demands the state changes its structures, to provide more funding, to stop acting as gatekeepers. But it also acts as an incitement to action for trans people, an incitement to shape the future of what healthcare could be – for and by ourselves.

“Democratise Trans Healthcare Now!” is a broad and unifying call to action. It can mean different things to different people. For the trans person lobbying Parliament it can mean the call to secure more funding so that all trans people, regardless of how rich we are or how well we fit within certain narratives, can get access to treatment. For the trans person of colour, the disabled trans person, the non-binary trans person, and the queer trans person, it can be a call to ensure that the organisations and campaigns which speak for trans people are representative of all of us and not just the most privileged in our communities.  For the trans community organiser, it’s a call to make sure that our community is robust enough to ensure that no trans person is left behind when the “official” structures fail them, a call to organise solidarity funds for trans healthcare, and for community responses to anxiety. For all of us, it’s a call to imagine what a world where trans people’s healthcare happens on our own terms would look like, and to take small steps towards creating that world.

“Democratise Trans Healthcare Now!” offers a paradigm shift in the way in which we do trans activism. By demanding what to some might seem impossible, we make possible what before was improbable.

[Props to the Institute of Precarious Consciousness and Plan C for the inspiration for this article.]

If you are interested in writing about the intersections of trans and mental health, please get in touch! 

An Open Letter to Rupert Read

An open letter to Rupert Read, by Loz Webb on behalf of Action for Trans Health

[content note: discussion of transmisogyny and TERFs]

Earlier this year, I marched alongside Green MP Caroline Lucas at Trans* Pride Brighton, and spoke to her briefly about the importance of improving trans healthcare, a point on which she seemed to heartily agree. I have been impressed with Lucas’ seeming commitment to the trans community, from her presence at Trans* Pride to her consultations with trans constituents, to her awareness of the dire state of trans healthcare in the UK currently.

The Greens have made a real show of their membership surpassing that of UKIP this week, and well they should – this is an impressive achievement. Unfortunately Rupert, you seem single handedly determined to use your platform as a Green Party candidate to attack trans people’s right to exist.

This problem is much larger than a few dodgy comments on Twitter, so let me first address your rejection of the term ‘cis’. You write that the notion of people being forced to use the word cis troubles you, and that some feminists share those concerns. Firstly, let me say that no-one is forcing anyone to use any particular language. It is simply that words mean things, and if you refuse to use certain neutral descriptive terms, don’t be surprised when no-one understands what you’re talking about. However, if your issue is that you believe that cis people should be called normal and trans people should be called trans, then the problem isn’t that you have a problem with random adjectives, the problem is that you think that cis people are normal and trans people aren’t. The problem is transphobia. I want to be very clear, because I can tell from your tweets that you struggle with the definition of words. The problem is not that you are plainspoken, nor that you self-identify as a philosopher. The problem is that you have a problem with transgender people.

I was intending to be a lot more polite when I started writing this open letter but, unfortunately for me, then I discovered your blog. Which, unfortunately for you, is full of transphobic hate speech. I had thought, prior to discovering your blog, that perhaps you were a bit ignorant, perhaps you’d never bothered to educate yourself about trans people, perhaps new words and concepts frightened you, similarly to how new words and concepts frighten middle age wealthy Tories in the Home Counties who estrange their LGBT children in order to punish them for coming out. In other words, I thought you were unintentionally harming trans people because of your narrow, ill-considered viewpoint.

However, it is clear in your blog, where you refuse to accept that trans women are women, and also refuse to accept that women who don’t have periods (thus including young, elderly, disabled, and intersex women) are women, and also refuse to accept that women who aren’t brought up as women (a category that includes women from other cultures where women and men have slightly or vastly different meanings, cisgender girls who are tomboys, children bought up gender neutral, survivors of abuse, and intersex children) are women. In fact, for a cisgender man (sorry mate, it’s nowt personal, it’s just that meanings of words thing again), you seem incredibly concerned with who is and who isn’t a woman. You don’t get to decide who is and who isn’t a woman. In fact, no-one except the woman in question gets to decide whether she is a woman or not. And that’s not based in some bizarre identity politics, it’s simply that no-one else knows, no-one else can possibly know – that’s how being a person works.

It seems to me that your particular brand of transmisogyny is actually about something far darker. It seems to me that you share trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ aims of seeking to refuse lifesaving transition treatment to trans people, that you sympathise with those who assault trans women for ‘deceiving’ people by not disclosing their trans status, and that you wish to deny trans people the right to be who they are. From your blog, and your adherence to trans-exclusionary radical feminism, it is clear that you oppose the rights of trans people. And until the Green Party do something about it, they must be considered a transphobic party.

This LGBT History Month, lets end the cis-centric view of history!

Who’s the odd one out?: Alexander the Great, Frida Kahlo, Virginia Wolff, Alan Turing, Paris Lees.

All of these famous LGBT people featured on posters around my campus in recent years to celebrate LGBT History Month. Although I would hardly call Paris Lees and her contemporaries Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono and Janet Mock historical figures, at least not yet! I was always quite confused about why famous LGB were found from all periods of history whilst we can only think of trans people who are alive today or in very recent history, despite ample evidence to suggest that people who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth exist in all contemporary and historical societies. It creates the impression that trans people are a recent phenomenon, and divorces us from the historical struggles we have been a part of.

A major problem with compiling trans history is that the way that we talk about gender identity and sexuality now is a relatively recent thing. For much of history, what we know now as LGB and trans identities have not been considered as distinct. This has led to significant tracts of queer history – our history – being retrospectively claimed by cis LGB people alone.

Radclyffe Hall, the author at the centre of an obscenity trial for their novel The Well of Loneliness, is a case in point. Hall identified as being a congenital invert. Sexologist Kraft-Ebing defined AFAB inverts as having a “masculine soul, heaving in the female bosom”, whilst another contemporary sexologist, Havelock Ellis, defines AFAB inversion as something more similar to what we understand as lesbianism today. We don’t know which definition Hall would have preferred, or if Hall would have seen these two definitions as mutually exclusive. However, we do know that Hall chose to publish their work using their gender-neutral middle name, Radclyffe, rather than their more female-coded first name, and that Hall was called John by their closest friends and lovers. We also know that Hall pretty much exclusively dressed in clothes that would be considered masculine at the time. Yet Hall has been pretty much exclusively claimed as part of (cis) lesbian history and not trans history. Likewise we can see a similar dynamic happen with the Stonewall Riots, a riot led by trans women of colour and homeless queers, yet being claimed almost exclusively on behalf of white cis LGB historians.

When trans and gender non-conforming people are talked about, they are understood in cis-centric terms. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have heard cis historians talk about people who were assigned female at birth dressing in men’s clothing in order to become a doctor, soldier, pirate or similar. This understanding frames their gender presentation as a means to accessing a profession, despite the fact that often there is evidence to suggest that many of these individuals dressed in male clothing much before taking on the occupation they were famous for. Chances are, these individuals were simply trans people doing what for the time was a gender appropriate profession, rather than being particularly opportunistic cis women.

Likewise a significant amount of people who pop up in the historical record as being convicted for being male sex workers may well could be understood differently from a trans perspective. In many of these cases, people were convicted on the basis that they looked to the police like men dressed in women’s clothes, and this was used as ‘proof’ of those individuals being sex workers. The understanding was that those individuals would dress as women in order to become sex workers, rather than simply being women who may or may not be involved in sex work. This framing results in those individuals being remembered as gay male sex workers, rather than as trans women.

Part of the problem is that history has been written, recorded and disseminated by cis people – the vast majority of which do not have much contact with trans culture. Cis historians are currently not equipped to recognise when a historical event of figure is of significance to the trans community. And as trans people are discriminated against today, most cis historians do not feel it valuable to learn about trans histories. This creates a vicious cycle: the less historians writing about trans histories, the harder it is to learn about them.

As such, Action for Trans Health’s resident historian, Greta Williams-Schultz, has created a short guide to historical trans figures from the UK. Within the guide you can read about historical trans people whom you might not have heard about. Some lead ordinary lives, such as Mary Mudge who worked as a dairymaid in Devon, and others were remembered as doing extraordinary feats, such as Jan Morris, a member of the first British team to climb Everest.

Many of these individuals lived before the term ‘trans’ or ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ existed. There is always going to be a debate whether it is appropriate for us to claim people as trans when the concept didn’t exist when they were alive. But LGB people don’t seem to have an issue with claiming Alexander the Great as bisexual when he died approximately 2200 years before the term was invented. The fact is, cis people are seen as the default, so if we don’t claim these historical figures as our own, cis people will only do it for us.