Words by Matthew Hodson | @Matthew_Hodson  

I’ve not always been a great ally of trans people.

With the benefit of hindsight I can see that was partly caused by my fear of any femininity within myself. As a child of the 70s it was drummed into me that femininity was wrong. As a closeted gay I felt like I was standing on shifting sands already. I wondered how could someone ‘know’ that they were a different gender to the one assigned at birth?

As a politically engaged out gay man in the 80s I argued with those who dismissed my sexuality. “How long have you been gay?” I’ve always been gay. “How do you know you’re gay?” How do you know you’re straight? “Have you tried being straight?” Yes, for years.

It’s ridiculous that it took me any time at all before the penny dropped. The ignorance and prejudice I faced as a gay man mirrored the ignorance and prejudice that dogs the trans communities.

Not only do we share similar experiences, we share a history and a community. A trans woman threw the first brick at Stonewall. Many trans people built the organisations that cared for the gay men who contracted AIDS in the 80s and 90s. We owe them for that. Some trans women previously identified as gay men, some trans men previously identified as lesbian. Some trans women are lesbian, some trans men are gay. Attempting to divide our communities is unnecessary and unhelpful.

My understanding deepened when I travelled into town with a trans friend. Unlike some, she does not pass as a woman. A friend was having a party and she shyly asked if I would escort her there. It soon became clear why she asked. Everywhere there were looks, sometimes there was laughter, other times mutters. It felt to me that there was a constant undercurrent of threat. Violence may not be an inevitability but it was certainly a possibility. And that was just one journey, in liberal, metropolitan London. The Stonewall LGBT in Britain Trans report highlights the level of prejudice and discrimination that trans people routinely face: 2 in 5 trans people have experienced a hate crime in the last year; 1 in 8 trans employees have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the last year; 1 in 4 have experienced homelessness; 1 in 10 have been rejected by their entire families.

The impact is huge. Trans people experience high rates of depression, are more likely to self-harm, contemplate or commit suicide. Drug use is high, alcoholism is high, HIV rates are probably higher than for any other demographic group – and with poorer rates of access to treatment and care. All too often, transphobia kills.

So when you read tabloid stories that suggest that men are pretending to be trans just so they can perv on women in changing rooms, recognise that for the fiction it is and call it out. When you read that children are being hurried into gender-reassignment surgery, reflect that the real struggle that trans adults face is being able to access such treatment (the surgery on kids is just a myth). When you read that trans people regret gender confirmation surgery be assured that the actual numbers are vanishingly small, especially when compared to the number of trans people who are harmed, or inflict harm upon themselves, while struggling to receive such treatment. Do not be distracted by small or non-existent problems while large numbers of trans people are suffering or dying because of lies, ignorance or prejudice.

I’m not trans. I’m not as brave as my trans friends. They have followed a path that few would choose. They do so not because of a whim but because not to do so would be to deny something that is so fundamental to them that it would mean living a lie. As a gay man I can relate to that. When people deny the very identity of trans people, I believe trans people. When the tabloid media attacks and mocks trans people, I will stand up for trans people. When politicians use trans people to gain political capital I will not stay silent.

I’ve made mistakes. I probably will do again but I will do what I can to be a good ally to trans people. My understanding of the prejudice that trans people face is informed by my experience as a gay man. My desire to stand with my trans friends is just human. 

Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) is the Executive Director of NAM aidsmap. This article is Matthew’s own opinion and not necessarily the view of NAM as an organisation.