The UK Trans community is not powerless: We just have to see it

Hi, my name is Michelle Snow. I am writing this on my behalf and nothing here reflects the views of anybody else working on What The Trans (well, it might, I haven’t really asked them, but these words are mine).

This is aimed at and references the struggles facing the UK Transgender community.

I believe that we have the means today within our community to improve transgender and non-binary people’s lives. I believe we have the power to meet our attackers and beat them. I do not believe this will result in gender recognition act reform, non-binary recognition, healthcare reform, the reversal of the Bell Vs Tavistock decision or anything else over night. But a simple truth has been forgotten and replaced with a lie that we have been telling ourselves for as long as I can remember.

The lie that we are powerless, outgunned and entirely at the mercy of cisgender people.

I know why it feels that way. Hell, for years I believed it myself. You look at where our attacks are coming from and just how huge the barriers are in front of us and it is intimidating to say the least. This combined with how isolated so many of us are (and were even before this pandemic) and feeling powerless is only natural and feels beyond debate. We all have examples of our powerlessness.

But the truth is we are powerful. We just have so many barriers in the way of realising it. Not power as in “your life force is powerful” or anything like that. Real power. I believe that the UK trans community right now has all the power it needs inside the community to turn the tide of the last five years.

The Office for National Statistics estimates that there is somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 transgender people in the UK. I would bet what little money I have on that number being low, but look at those numbers. Now look at your yourself. What skills have you picked up over the course of your lifetime? What knowledge do you have that many others around you don’t? Look through your contacts, do you know anyone in any kind of position of power? Do you have time you could spare? Do you have access to resources through your job or your family? I would bet that everyone reading this will have something they could give to a united fightback.

Now times that by 300,000. Now add in the simple truth that in our community we have every kind of person you can imagine. Now imagine if all of those people were given access to skills development, a means to communicate and were given a real infrastructure for organising.

Imagine what could be possible if we could link up all of these people. If we had a dedicated private communications network where we could exchange information, resources, and co-ordinate a response. Imagine if we stopped operating as we do now, several thousand different communities operating autonomously and we came together and formed a real power block?

Imagine what we could do if those with experience in publishing taught others what they know. We could inundate every editor at any outlet with our stories. Hell we could start our own outlet if we wanted to (hell, me and Ashleigh did and all we had was a second hand iPad a dropbox). Imagine what we could do if we could crowdfund nationally for an advertising campaign dispelling all the myths that have taken hold in the popular consciousness? Imagine what we could do if we planned direct action and were able to organise enough bodies from across the country to make that action worthwhile and effective? I see no reason why our community, if we worked hard on building alliances, connections and if we just talked to each other, we could have one million people marching for trans rights in London by 2022. That would equal the UK’s biggest protest of all time. We could make that happen with what we have available to us right now. We don’t need any cisgender person’s permission to find an old PC and convert it into a private, secured chat server. Hell some of you will have the means to do that right now just with random bits strewn around your house!

I do not know what specific tactics we should use as a united block. I don’t even want to put forward what I think we should be specifically campaigning on. That isn’t my place. That must be decided by many more people than myself. But what I am saying is that we could become a force to be reckoned with whatever needs to be addressed and whatever way we decide to address it.

Why haven’t we done this? I am genuinely asking, why does this feel impossible or totally pointless?

There have been so many movements in history that started in a much, much worse position than we are in now and they changed everything. The Civil Rights movement in the US was started by people who couldn’t vote, were totally segregated from society and were actively hunted by mobs who sought to kill them! The US Gay liberation movement was started by a bunch of LGBT people in someones flat one day! Stonewall was founded around a kitchen table by twenty people! Do you want to know how I know how Stonewall started? Because I asked one of them! You can do that yourself right now on Twitter. There is walking talking evidence out there that shows we could do the same anytime we liked. Look what they achieved and none of them even had the internet! Hell, Stonewall were doing their work in the middle of a fucking plague under Margaret Thatcher! The idea that we could not do the same just does not add up.

A modern example of this is how the various communities that make up the wider US transgender community have succeeded in so many US States. They have a real network that turned them into a force to be reckoned with. How do you think Sarah McBride made it as a senator? In the US right now the transgender community has the ear of the president elect. During the Trump years the network that they have was part of why a conservative majority supreme court awarded LGBT people full legal employment protections. That happened only months ago!

I have been told many times by American transgender people who live in red states, under Donald Trump, that they would not come to the UK because they would fear for their safety. Their networks are that effective. Of course the US community has huge issues (the murder rate of Black trans women cannot be ignored or brushed over) and is far from perfect in so many ways but look at what they have achieved.

I believe we are just as capable as them and I believe there is no reason why we could not do the same whilst avoiding some of the mistakes they themselves have made.

Some of us have far more privilege than others (I have learned that once again whilst trying to get peoples opinions on where our community must go now) but if we became one unified community who talked to each other, worked together and made sure NOBODY is left behind we could become a real force to be reckoned with.

The truth of all of us is we are not just transgender. Some of us are disabled, some of us come from travelling communities, we have every race represented. Imagine how much good we could do if we were able to be called upon as a block? What we could do for those of us who have intersectional identities? Or what we could do for other movements fighting for justice? We could not only help ourselves but we could help others in the form of marching alongside Black Lives Matter, Sex Workers Rights groups, Intersex groups…the possibilities we would have for doing good in the world would increase so much if we just had a way to talk to each other and organise as one block.

There will be people who don’t see the point. Or they will be scared of how Terfs would use whatever actions we take as another stick to beat us with. There will be some who are thinking we should carry on as we have whilst hate crime rates rise and transphobia becomes more acceptable. But look at what they have been able to do for the last five years, they do not need any reason to tell everyone we are dangerous or that our needs are abusive. Our attackers will attack us whatever we do, we may as well get attacked actually doing something instead of waiting for Stonewall to save us. How many of us will suffer in the meantime? We could mitigate that suffering as soon as next year!

I am not saying what has happened is the result of us not taking action. We were all blind sided by how much things turned dark. Nobody could have predicted what has happened. Nor do I want to suggest that no good work has been done. I have seen and reported on much of it. I am well aware of the amazing work so many of us do.

But non the less these people do their work in relative isolation. With some support from the whole community there is nothing they or we couldn’t do.

Currently many across the world are looking at the UK and highlighting us as a positive example. Many transgender people are scared that similar rollbacks and attacks could be coming for them next.

We have to start realising how much power we have at our disposal, and using it, not just for our sake but for theirs.

There are so many reasons to not act. What if something goes wrong? What if it makes it worse?

Those points are worth discussing. Whatever we do, we will have to be careful and mistakes will be made.

But we cannot be frozen by the idea that we do not have power. It is a lie that serves our attackers far more than it serves us. They don’t want us to act. They want us gone.

For our sakes, for the sakes of others who could use our help and for the sakes of those in other countries who are scared they will be next, we have to realise how much power we do have and use it.

Otherwise, well, look at what has happened over the past five years.