As the world’s only transgender MP, I want to ensure our voices are heard
My election to the Polish parliament in 2011 caused a huge stir. I was the first transgender MP in my country, and I am now the only one in the world. So I have a high profile and people sometimes listen to what I have to say – hence you are reading this. But my high visibility illustrates a strange paradox that we as transgender people experience daily. We are highly visible and yet almost invisible at the same time.
Individually you often can’t miss us. On a bus or in the street many trans people stand out, even if we would like to pass as a woman or a man. And because we are easy to spot, we are easy to bully. I have lost count of the number of times I have been shouted at in the street or felt threatened by unwanted attention from drunk men who think it’s funny to ridicule someone who looks different from the norm. Most of my trans friends report similar treatment.
The consequences of this anti-trans sentiment are sometimes far more severe than name-calling. According to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project there were a total of 1,123 reported killings of trans people in 57 countries from 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2012. And the figures show a significant increase in reported killings of trans people over the last five years. In 2008, 148 cases were reported, in 2009 217, and in 2012, 267 trans people were said to have been killed. Most people are shocked when they hear these figures, and learn the extent of violence against us.
I think this is because although on an individual level we are often all too visible, as a social group our voice is rarely heard. Despite estimates that 2-5% of the population is transgender (ie experience some kind of gender dysphoria) the violence against, and even murder of, transgender people is rarely discussed.
Where the human rights of ethnic minorities, gay and disabled people are now taken very seriously, and in the case of the former, rising fast up the international agenda, the rights of transgender people remain an afterthought.
I put this down to the unsettling challenge transgender people can represent to norms of masculinity and femininity, which many hold dear. The fear and discomfort we can engender sometimes results in mockery and contempt from those with power, including from some well-known media commentators.
Even among the gay and lesbian communities, which you might assume would be our natural allies, we are often made to feel like an awkward interloper, an unwelcome guest at a party where we don’t quite belong. Indeed, the Kaleidoscope Trust lecture I am delivering on 17 May in London is to mark Idahot day (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia). But until this year, the “T” was missing, and it was simply Idaho day. A small but telling example.
So what about the future? Was my election a flash in the pan, or are there grounds for optimism? The fact that in Poland – a strongly Catholic county with historically traditional views on sexuality and gender – a transgender MP has been elected is, I think, significant. I say that because my election coincides with a more general shift towards a liberal outlook in my country. I sit in our parliament next to gay MP Robert Biedron, also from the Palikot Movement party, to which I belong.
Our party gained 10% of the national vote at the last Polish generalelection despite the fact that our policies include legalisation of gay marriage, abortion and marijuana.
There is an unmistakable shift in social attitudes across the western world as more and more countries embrace liberal social policies such as gay marriage. The challenge for transgender people is to ensure our rights are included in this wider shift, and that we become visible for the right reasons.