Don’t Tell Me To ‘Suck It Up’

Clara Barnhurst

As Parliament argues back and forth over how the Gender Recognition Act is revised, there is a whole conversation happening across almost every medium about what makes a person a gender. The expected battle lines are drawn, people are saying the usual horrible things, and I’m probably not alone in feeling like I’m a child watching a nasty battle over who gets custody of me.

This specific debate over this Act of Parliament is really an excuse to keep ranting on about what makes a person valid in their gender that’s been going on, at least in the UK, for years. That it’s now a point of discussion in a way that will probably change the law just makes it more visible and the parties involved louder. I’ve been trying to stay out of it. The reason I mention it now is that there seems to be no escape from the judgemental commentary, so I may as well dive in.


There are several problems with the way the conversation is happening, the first is that nobody making the noise seems to actually listen or care about anyone but themselves. Being transgender in this world means moving through a gatekeeping culture, and it shouldn’t be much surprise that transgender people turn around and impose their own forms of gatekeeping on other transgender people. The goal posts are many and varied; you would think that victims of gatekeeping would know better, but no.

What is even more nauseating is that the goal posts transgender people set always seem to be ones they have passed, themselves. It’s all part of sick, toxic process of self validation where the oppressed rises just enough to take the role of an oppressor. It’s as though the transgender community caught Stockholm syndrome through interaction with our gatekeepers.

Even more infuriating than arbitrary checkpoints is the idea that we somehow can just make ourselves. As though the world outside somehow doesn’t have a say. They do. The reason everyone’s got their knickers in a twist over the revision of the Gender Recognition Act is that it essentially changes the rules of official transition in the UK. I don’t count it likely that I’ll end up in jail, but if I did, I want to go to the correct facility. The gender recognition certificate ensures that and the Act outlines the rules for getting one. A more likely scenario would be me in hospital for a period of time. I want to be put on the right ward if and when that happens. I’ll be needing a gender recognition certificate for that one. A even more immediate concern for me, if the registrar for my upcoming wedding clocks that I’m transgender and I can’t produce one, they are legally obliged to call me ‘sir’ and ‘husband’ during the ceremony.

Can someone explain to me how I can just not allow the world to be involved in my identity when that is the stuff I face? When I’m at my most vulnerable, I need a piece of paper to ensure I’m treated properly else it’s a passing game. When the outside world can destroy what should be one of the happiest days of your life because of what they think they see, there is no way to escape what the world thinks of you. It’s easy to ignore the opinions of others when you are privileged enough to do so without consequence. Transgender people do not fit that description by a long way.


What makes this worse is the idea that we can rise above the whole mess. Nothing makes me want to murder someone quite like being told to stay positive. My way of life is under constant assault by powerful people that could end me. Platitudes about how I control how I feel are on the edge of victim blaming: when you’re afraid of going to the hospital because of how you may be treated, that is not your fault. That isn’t something you can control and the hurt that results from misgendering or other mistreatment - hurt you have no control over - is absolutely real. We cannot take responsibility for our mistreatment. We are not responsible for the emotional harm that comes to us, and we have every right to be angry, upset, or afraid. We do not choose to feel these things.

The same goes for the idea that we can evade harm by devaluing those who harm us. Yes, the people that seek to harm transgender people are usually misguided at best, bigoted at worst, but knowing they’re wrong doesn’t disarm them. Maybe we can learn to deaden our senses, but that’s not the same as not being harmed. Adjusting to systemic assault from hateful groups of people is extremely damaging, and I’m not prepared to trade my sensitivity for PTSD.

The transgender community as a whole needs to find a way to rise out of this ridiculous spiral. We are in clear danger from powerful people, and we sit here judging each other. That isn’t an accident. The people who seek to erase us want us the way we are, creating illusory barriers for each other, internally perpetuating the culture of hate they have created for us. It’s important to understand that every time we impose barriers for entry on each other, we are playing into the hands of the TERFs, the evangelicals, the binarists, and every other group that wants us to disappear. If we can’t find it in ourselves to include people, we are doomed. Every time we tell an injured transgender or gender non conforming person to just deal with whatever bigotry they’re facing, we are empowering the bigots. Don’t tell people to suck it up, that just blames them for their abuse. Maybe all that is a pipe dream, but we have to start somewhere.


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