With transgender issues becoming better known in the public consciousness, it is necessary to look at ways to fundamentally reform society in a way that is consistent with our enhanced knowledge. The international gay rights movement has changed the way that we think about sexuality and society adjusted accordingly, albeit it at a slower rate than many of us would like. With gender now understood in less definite and binary terms, we need to make a conscious effort to reform our attitudes, institutions, and procedures. This piece shall suggest five ways in which society can be improved in this regard.
The first would be to mandate that all official government documents gender blind. Some countries have already begun this practice by omitting the requirement to state the person’s gender or providing a ‘None of the Above’ option on documentation. I would prefer to have the question omitted entirely because as well as helping our transgender comrades, it would also do something to address the institutional sexism present in many countries around the world. However transgender people have explained to me that some in the community would like to keep this question as they feel something liberating about ticking the box marked ‘woman’ after being born male and undergoing their transition. There is nuance that must be taken into account but degendering documents wherever possible is a good step forward. Indeed, given the pervasiveness of the state in modern society, this simple step from law-makers would enable transgender people to answer in whatever gender they identify with or to not answer the question at all.
The second way to make society more trans-friendly is to insist on degendered documents in the private sector. This point is essentially an extension of the first but I felt the need to separate it because the process through which degendered contracts for housing, services, employment etc. would be different that mandating a change within government bureaucracies. As well as with other forms of civil rights, the insistence of gender blind documents would require more than simple legislation. For example, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the US, racism didn’t go away. Using the government to ensure the equality of the transgender community in the private sector will require legislation to encourage or insist that private entities adopt gender blind documents, but there must also be a mechanism to enforce this policy.
Having said that, there needs to be a distinction made between starting from a position of prejudice towards a community and simple ignorance which is why I wouldn’t suggest court orders to compel businesses to put in a ‘None of the Above’ box with non-compliance threatened by imprisonment. Therefore legislation should be targeted at ensuring the same anti-discrimination practices are applied to trans people as are applied to ethnic minorities, women, the disabled etc. Any governmental action should be through encouraging the adoption of such business practices rather than forcing it upon people. I would therefore encourage government action in the form of grants or tax breaks to encourage businesses adopt such policies, or a programme of guidelines sent to businesses to educate employers and employees alike.
Thirdly is an issue that is currently being hotly contested by Christian conservatives in the United States and this is the issue of transgender bathrooms. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept it is basically the idea that rather than have two bathrooms segregated based on gender, there should be one unisex bathroom. The main objection to this is that people are saying that men shouldn’t be in the same bathroom as women but this is a stupid objection. Near to where I live is a degendered bathroom and it’s not a problem because the entire bathroom is full of cubicles. As a result people cannot watch each other take a shit, and trans people feel comfortable. In terms of what can be done, there are number of approaches.
One is that all institutions that receive government funding, both public and private, could have unisex bathrooms as a precondition for further funding. Prime examples would be universities and museums having to change their policies in order to receive further government funding. The reason that I believe this is a good thing is that the cost to refit bathrooms to be inclusive to trans people is negligible in comparison to the potential loss of funding and therefore it would be in these institutions’ best interests to do so.
The other approach that one could take is organising a group of people that believe that trans bathrooms should be built and to lobby a company to act. Obviously this could prove to be more difficult but the threat of bad publicity is strong enough in some countries to essentially guilt these private companies into such a move. This is most effective in the case of large corporations as they are more likely to have transgender employees and/or customers so I would advise choosing battles carefully to avoid alienating a wider population of potential supporters.
The fourth thing is about health provisions, specifically in reference to transitioning. All healthcare systems around the world are different and this is only relates to countries with some form of government provision of healthcare so if you are reading this in America then skip this point. In countries with government provided healthcare much is spent on important areas and one that could be included in this is surgery to help people transition. There are a number of different surgical procedures involved in gender reassignment and whilst such procedures require a very skilled surgeon, the number of transgender people in the world is very small when compared with the overall population.
As a result the number of highly skilled surgeons to perform these procedures will not be huge and unwieldy, therefore the additional funds to pay for these professionals will not be astronomical. It’s also worth point out that these surgeons would also be doing other types of medical work in these health services and wouldn’t be waiting around between gender reassignment procedures. Not only would trans people be able to transition without incurring huge amounts of person debt, but the health services of these countries would be enriched by having new doctors.
The final dimension that I would like to speak about isn’t an issue that only affects the trans community but is something that is very prevalent: mental health. Suicide and depression among the LGBT community has long been problems and groups around the world have established services to combat these issues. A 2015 Harvard study found that transgender youth are more likely to face mental health problems than their non-transgender classmates, and tackling mental health is a key way of making society more trans-friendly. There are a number of ways to tackle mental illness and to be brutally honest there is no silver bullet policy that can be implemented in every country around the world, but there are some measures that can be taken.
By changing how society perceives the transgender community, young trans people will not be ashamed of their gender identity and this will prevent some cases of depression and suicide. Another aspect is the role the state. If mental health services were treated in the exactly the same way as physical health services, more support for people with mental illness, both cisgender and transgender, would be available. The other aspect is address the root causes of such illnesses.
One big one is how the dominant ideology of the West, neoliberalism, seeks to commodify everything and as a result people become obsessed with constantly working, whether its for a job or in school etc. We, as a society, need to reduce the amount we work and also acknowledge that whilst stress can bring out the best in people, it can also be very damaging. Reassessing the value of leisure time is key in tackling mental illness, for all people irrespective of their sexual identity. Finally, we need to increase funding on global level in psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry in order to gain more knowledge about both how mental illnesses are caused and how they manifest themselves.
This piece was based on the premise that through practical measures society can be made more accessible to transgender people but on top of this there is another conclusion. Implementing these policies would not only improve society for trans people but would improve society for everyone else. Degendered documents would reduce systemic sexism as well as institutional transphobia, and desegregated bathrooms do not endanger people in any way. Allowing for medical procedures related to transitioning to be paid out of general taxation does not massively increase state spending on healthcare and would increase the number of skilled surgeons in these services. Lastly, improved mental health provision benefits people from all backgrounds, including transgender people, and this is a positive outcome for the whole of society. Improving access to transgender people is not onerous on the state or cisgender people, and implementing such policies improves society as a whole. In my opinion, arguing against such proposals would be foolish.