On 4th April 2023 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) provided advice to the UK Government on “clarifying” the definition of sex in law. Specifically, they recommended the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act 2010 be re-defined as “biological sex”. The proposals have been welcomed by the Labourparty as well as the Conservatives.
If adopted, the EHRC’s proposals would strip trans people of numerous legal protections currently afforded by the Equality Act as well as the Gender Recognition Act.
This is made extremely clear by the EHRC. Their own examples include the argument that it is a problem that trans women may be protected from sexism under current law, and (as “legal lesbians”) from homophobia if we have female partners. Most worryingly of all, they have doubled down on previous attacks on our right to access gendered spaces. If implemented, the proposals may result in the trans women being barred by law from women’s toilets, changing rooms, hospital wards, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres, and book clubs (the latter is a genuine example provided by the EHRC).
I am not going to get into the weeds with these proposals. Others will no doubt provide deep legal analyses. I have already seen “gender critical” commentators claiming that this will have no real effect on our lives in practice. To which I say: fuck you.
I am done with being polite, and reasonable, and rational. These proposals represent a blatant attack not just on our civil rights but also on our rights to exist as human beings in public. In practice, banning trans women from women’s toilets means that many if not most of us simply cannot use public toilets.
Trans women use women’s facilities because we are women. And when I say “trans women are women” I am not merely making some kind of abstract metaphysical claim. I am saying that we are structurally disadvantaged under patriarchy, and experience sexist violence every day from men. That is the material reality. Insisting that trans men use women’s toilets is equally stupid, especially if your supposed aim as a “gender critical” campaigner is to produce a space free of beards and penises.
But here I am disappearing once again into details. None of this is about details. It’s about terrorising trans people, and we are terrified.
It’s about making our lives impossible. Ideally, we will disappear; our oppressors don’t really care if we suffer or we die. And we know, trans people know, that people around us are suffering and dying because we are actually a part of that community. I’ve spent the past 13 years producing research that formally documents the oppression we face, because when we simply say what we know is true because we are living that truth every day, nobody in power gives a shit.
In the meantime, people in suits believe there are votes and clicks and money to be won through fighting culture wars, through distracting people from rising poverty and slow-burning climate collapse.
If you are cis, it is up to you, the reader, to do something about this. Over the past five years trans people have been systematically harassed and silenced by a hostile media. We have been pushed out of political parties and campaign groups. Supposed human rights protectors such as the EHRC have been institutionally captured by the far right. Academics happily write abstract theory about what a terrible danger we pose. Fascistgroups are rallying against us in the streets, trans healthcare is under attack, and trans children are being told they must be outed to their parents, all with the support of Labour and Tory politicians as well as popular children’s authors.
Obviously we will fight for our own liberation. We have always fought. We are so beautiful and so powerful, especially here and especially now.
But we need you to fight with us.
Here are some things you can do. Write to your MP, and then do it again. Make sure they are sick of hearing from you and then keep going. Go to a protest. Engage in direct action. Maybe sign a petitionif you’re into that kind of thing. If you are in a political party, fight like hell to ensure that party is actually on our side. Join a union and fight for us there. Join a human rights group. Join a small trans organisation and offer whatever you can, whether that’s volunteer time, small donations, or signal-boosting.
Think about how you or your organisation might productively break the law to help people. If the EHRC’s proposals actually make it through Parliament, we must make them unworkable. Section 28was only successful because teachers, administrators, and local authorities collaborated with an openly homophobic government. That doesn’t have to be the case again.
Finally, it’s important to note this is just the tip of the iceberg. Attacking trans people and defining women by “biological sex” are a part of a wider attempt to remove women’s reproductive rights. Our government is shredding the refugee convention and putting asylum seekers in camps. Our legal rights to protest and strike have been massively curtailed.
If you’ve ever wondered “what would I have done in the face of rising fascism?” then wonder no longer.
I bounced up to an old friend to share this important insight. All around, queer bodies danced and swayed to furiously enthusiastic music. We have always sought refuge in one another, in our in our art, in utopic dancefloors and community care. But something felt different.
The collective energy of the crowd was wild, strong, cohesive. The entire room was dancing – and among us, so so many out, happy trans women and transfeminine people. On stage, a non-binary person sang explicitly about their experiences of gender to an assertive ska beat. It was a joyful moment – but the true wonder of it for me was that it was far from unique.
This was the last in a string of winter tour dates for my band wormboys, at the brilliant Queer As Punk event in Edinburgh. But I’d experienced similar in Dundee, in Glasgow, in Newcastle, in Hull, in Leeds. At every gig, trans women and non-binary people were scattered throughout the audience; at most, there were also several of us on stage through the night. It’s a world of difference from when I encountered just the occasional trans man playing gigs in the mid-2010s; let alone from when wrote a blog post titled Trans/queer rock musicback in 2010, in which I desperately sought validation in questionable gender-bending tunes written by (largely) cis musicians.
While trans women (and trans people more broadly) have always been involved in DIY music, there’s a clear change taking place. We have taken our inheritance and run with it. There are more of us making our own art, telling our own stories, and celebrating one another more than ever before. We are more visible, we are more assertive, we are more respected within our scenes, and – collectively – we are having more fun.
The very night we enacted a better future on that dancefloor in Edinburgh, 16 year-old trans girl Brianna Ghey was stabbed to death in Warrington. Two other teenagers, a girl and a boy, have been charged with her murder.
For trans people across the UK – especially trans women and girls – this lethal attack was not unexpected. It feels like the culmination of a vicious hate campaign that permeates our media and politics. It’s also the tip of a vast iceberg of intentional violence and untimely death.
Suicide is endemic among trans youth driven to despair by the socially-sanctioned antagonism directed at them every hour of every day. I am tired of citing statistics. I have lost so many of my friends and peers. Words and numbers are insufficient for the raw anguish of my grief.
This is only compounded by the failures of bystanders who refuse to intervene, schools and employers who try to make us disappear, a National Health Service that inflicts harm upon us. England’s only child and adolescent gender clinic is due to close in a matter of weeks, with nothing ready to replace it. In an extraordinary open letter, the majority of clinical, research, and administrative staff at the clinic note an “increase in deaths related to the service” since the suspension of endocrine treatments in 2020.
Many of my friends have been threated or assaulted in broad daylight. One, for instance, had rocks thrown at her. Another was assaulted in front of the school gates. Another was raped by boys in the school playground. I frequently struggle with feelings of survivor’s guilt, having merely been publicly assaulted, stalked, harassed, and subject to threats of legal action and murder. Relatively minor matters, in the scheme of things.
How to understand joy in the face of so much hate and despair?
This is a question I struggled with throughout our tour. The night before Brianna’s murder, 400 people rioted in Knowsley outside a hotel that houses asylum seekers, spurred on by the fascist group Patriotic Alternative. This horrific event, too, did not occur in a vacuum. Racist and anti-migrant sentiment has similarly been stirred up by cynical politicians and journalists, as asylum seekers, economic migrants, British Black and Asian people, Gypsies and Travellers are repeatedly failed or directly targeted by our authorities and institutions. Patriotic Alternative have also repeatedly targeted LGBTIQ+ communities, through their campaign against Drag Queen Story Hour.
I could say so much more: about assaults on disabled people’s rights and livelihoods, about the demonisation of the poor, about attacks on pay, pensions, and the unions that attempt to defend them (I am writing this post while on strike). About how fascist violence is excused by sexist men in the name of “defending women and girls”. About how oppressed groups are played off against one another, while the effects of all this hateful discourse and action are felt most keenly at the intersection of multiple forms of persecution, such as by migrant trans women of colour.
Ultimately though, my point is this: what we are seeing is both a consequence of historic prejudices in our society, and of rising fascism.
Minority groups, women, migrants, and working class people in the UK have always faced a shared struggle against systemic discrimination and violence. Following a period of mild reform in the 1990s and 2000s, we are now experiencing a significant upswing in bold, blatant hate speech and violence, effectively condoned by every major political party and the majority of mainstream media publications.
This is the context of trans joy in the 2020s – and the reason why that joy is so necessary and vital.
Our tour reminded me that art is resistance, and resistance is collective. In recent days I have felt myself marinading in my own fear, a recipe for passive inaction. If we cannot experience joy, we cannot dream; if we cannot dream, we cannot hope; if we cannot hope, we cannot fight back. In the face of a world that wants so many of us dead, it is vital that we create reasons to live, and to thrive.
In Leeds, wormboys played to a rammed room in Wharf Chambers, a triumphant hometown crowd. We invited the brilliant Punjabi-Celtic-indie fusion trio Kinaara and gorgeous queer folk duo Serinto support us, building new friendships and cementing old ones. In Hull we debuted at the New Adelphi, where now-legendary acts such as Lizzo, Manic Street Preachers, Pulp, Skunk Anansie, and PJ Harvey played before they were famous. We shared the stage with Sandbox Mode – a solo hip-hop artist making deeply honest and funny songs about mundanity and despair – and Baby Flowers, an exciting young grunge group playing their second ever gig. This was the least well-attended, most male-dominated, and least obviously queer gig on our tour. And yet: the mood was vibrant, I noted at least one other trans woman in the audience, and Baby Flowers’ bassist was showing off a well-placed trans rights sticker.
In Newcastle, we found ourselves in the Little Buildings, a venue which has miraculously survived Covid-19 despite being founded just the pandemic began. The event was hosted by new dance party Queer Love. We played alongside the incredible hardcore group Disciplinary with their two bass guitars, and also the feminist dance-punk phenomenon of Fashion Tips. The whole night was amazing, but Fashion Tips were particularly exciting for me. Frontwoman (and Queer Love organiser) Esmé Louise Newman has a long history of involvement in groundbreaking queer feminist punk, metal and no-wave groups, including Penance Stareand Etai Keshiki. The new band were just as brilliant, with aggressive guitars and vocals underpinned by a powerful rhythm section, heralding a new era of revolutionary dancefloor divination.
Next to Glasgow, where I organised a well-attended gig at The 13th Note in less than a week, after our original promoter pulled out at the last minute. We booked the astoundingly powerful riot grrrl group Brat Covento play with us, along with HAVR, purveyors of gorgeous post-punk soundscapes. The latter band are fronted by Carrie Marshall, author of Carrie Kills A Man, who noted to cheers that she was a different gender the last time she played the venue. This was an event with plenty of trans women present, beaten only by brilliant gig in the same venue the very next night, which I went to see my soulful dyke folk pal Pictureskew play inbetween our own shows. That event might well be the first of its kind I’ve been to where there were at least as many trans women in attendance as anyone else. It was beautiful.
Then to Dundee, where Rad Apples and Make That A Takeput anarchist theory into practice by actively working to provide a safer punk venue and events for women, queer people, and migrants, through simultaneously building a welcoming space and promoting a zero-tolerance attitude towards discrimination and abuse. There I had two totally new life experiences. First, I witnessed somebody crowdsurfing in a shopping trolley during a storming set from banjo punks Alldeepends. Then, we were subject to the well-organised chaos of the “crowd surfing machine” by jubilant anarcho-folk headliners Boom Boom Racoon (a variant on the sat-on-the-floor rowing boat dance associated with songs such as “Oops Upside Your Head” and “Rock The Boat”, but with audience members encouraged to take turns in crowdsurfing along the boat).
Through the tour, I’d been carrying a trans flag to drape over my bass amp, and have often said something about trans liberation from stage inbetween songs. wormboys are a political band, but not in the same way as more in-your-face punk groups I’ve previouslyfronted. I’ve reveled in the ability to just be a musician and make that – rather than my status as a trans woman – the focal point of my involvement, leaving most of the talking to dual vocalists duo Sop and Harry. In the current political environment, that has increasingly felt untenable. It seems important to speak out, make myself visible, be obviously a trans woman making music.
But at Rad Apples I didn’t need to. There was already a trans flag up. There were plenty of other trans people there. There were placards in the bar opposing Section 35. I could just be.
And so to Edinburgh, where I found myself living in the future during a joyous set from opening act Bufandas. A future in which we experience the true paradox of trans visibility, in that we are both uniquely vulnerable, and uniquely strong. No longer hiding in the shadows, we are easier targets for those who hate us, but also have so much more potential to build power together.
Brianna Ghey’s killers may be convicted and jailed, but that will do nothing to stop the violence we face across these islands, and across the wider world. We have learned that we cannot trust the police to save us, or the courts, or politicians, or journalists, or managers, or human resources departments. But we don’t need any of these people or organisations. We owe it to Brianna to continue the grassroots work she did to improve other people’s lives, because another world is possible.
The headliners at Queer as Punk in Edinburgh were the fiercely feminist disco punk group The Red Stains. Their set included several explicit statements of support for trans people and especially trans women and girls, reflecting the attitude of most women active within actual feminist movements. This was an important reminder that anti-trans movements do not speak for all women, and never will.
My experience of sharing a stage with so many amazing musicians, from so many backgrounds, featured many such reminders. I was reminded of the sheer depth and range of human creativity. I was reminded of how much we can be inspired by our differences as well as shared experience. I was reminded of how far we have come, as well as how far we have to go.
There are so many of us. Today, we mourn. Tomorrow, we fight. Soon, we will win.
A couple of days ago I joined Katy Montgomerie’s livestream to work through the current NHS England consultation on child and adolescent gender services. We discussed the background to the consultation, what the questions mean, and what some of the major issues are.
You can take part in the consultation here. It is open until 4th December 2022. Filling it in is a bit of an intense experience, but if you fancy some friendly company and catty cameos, I hope our video will help.
Three weeks ago, I wrote to the NHS England Gender Programme Board (of which I am a former “patient public voice” member) to raise urgent concerns about their consultation on a new interim service specification for children and adolescents.
The proposed service specification is deeply transphobic on numerous levels – from the dearth of relevant treatment pathways, to the assertion that being trans is likely a “phase”.
It is also probable that if implemented, this service specification will impact other young people more widely – especially girls and LGBTIQ+ youth – by undermining principles of autonomy and respect.
The consultation is open to anyone. If you have the time and energy, there is a guide to participating in the consultation here, prepared jointly by Gendered Intelligence, Stonewall, Mermaids, and the Trans Learning Partnership. If you are a community member, a healthcare practitioner, a researcher, or work with a relevant charity, it would be particularly useful for NHS England to hear from you.
Other things you could do to oppose the proposals include: organising a demonstration, raising awareness of this issue on social media, and/or writing to your MP or trade union and asking them to place pressure on NHS England to reconsider.
To date, I have not received a reply from NHS England. Given the danger the proposed service specification poses to the safety of young people, I have now decided to make my letter to them public.
I am emailing to share my great alarm at the proposed service specifications for child and adolescent gender dysphoria services. It is my expert opinion that, if implemented, these proposals will cause great harm to young people. Moreover, in opening such poorly designed and unevidenced specifications to consultation and media commentary, NHS England has already caused harm.
The fact that this consultation is happening at all represents an enormous failure on the part of every professional involved.
I stepped down from the Gender Programme Board earlier this month due to clashes with my teaching schedule. However, given the severity of this situation, I would be remiss in my ethical duties if I did not also email you directly to share my concerns.
My three main areas of concern are:
Social transition should not be subject to medical oversight. This would represent a gross abuse of power on the part of commissioners and practitioners. Choosing to wear different clothes, and possibly use a different name and/or pronouns – is a personal, non-medical decision related to a person exploring their identity and/or coming out. Preventing a young person from choosing a social transition amounts to an attempted conversion practice.
Punishing young people and their families by subjecting them to investigation if they access private services will not help them access healthcare. Young trans people who access private healthcare in the UK or abroad generally due so due to the severity of NHS failures. It will increase the likelihood of young people hiding the fact they are accessing external treatment from NHS clinicians, and of people turning to black-market hormone providers rather than private doctors. I am not sure that members of the Gender Programme Board are fully aware of how prevalent and dangerous the home-made substances already in circulation can be.
Requiring that young people become research subjects as a condition of accessing treatment is completely unethical. This is a well-established principle in the trans health literature. There is no way in which you can truly obtain informed consent for research participation from individuals who will be denied healthcare if they refuse to participate. I fully support the expansion of NHS-funded research into trans healthcare, but participants must not be recruited through coercion.
I will end by inviting all recipients of this email to reflect on what they do not experience, and what they do not know.
Most members of the Gender Programme Board have not experienced gender incongruence or gender dysphoria.
Most members of the Gender Programme Board are not members of a trans community. It is likely therefore that you – even if you are a clinician – have never found yourself in a position where you are confronted with the true impact of NHS failings on young trans people who rely on community support. You do not know what it is like to be trying to look after many extremely damaged members of your community dealing with complex trauma and self-harm from people who have been repeatedly abused by NHS clinicians and processes. We, in the community, are the ones left picking up the pieces of your failings, finding ourselves on constant suicide watch and scrabbling to keep people alive. Invitations onto bodies such as the Gender Programme Board, where we are expected to be polite while fighting for scraps – only to be ignored – do not right these overwhelming wrongs.
My book Understanding Trans Health is cited prominently in the new Philosophy Tube video on complaint, systematic inflexibility, and England’s NHS trans health crisis.
It’s a great video, which manages to capture the sheer horror of NHS failings while still delivering silly jokes, ridiculous costumes, and a strong analysis. In addition to drawing on my work, Philosophy Tube’s Abigail Thorne consulted me on the script for this episode, and I appreciated the opportunity to use my research in this way.
I am personally more optimistic than Abigail about the opportunities offered by the four NHS England ‘pilot’ clinics. These are beginning to slash waiting times, and several are now effectively run by trans people, for trans people. However, I do think it’s important to still critique the very logic that underpins many trans healthcare systems, especially the highly questionable ways in which the medical diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ is constructed, and used to try and control us.
You can buy Understanding Trans Health directly from Policy Press here. It’s also available from all major booksellers, plus many independent queer book stores (e.g. Leeds’ brilliant The Bookish Type). I have also written to my publisher for permission to put a chapter of the book online for free – watch this space! In the meantime, free links to much of my other academic writing can be found here.
I was dismayed to read that the UK Government are amending the Gender Recognition Act. Specifically, they are removing the offence under section 22(1) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 for the disclosure of protected information, to enable this disclosure where it is “necessary for the purposes of facilitating, assisting or undertaking relevant research”.
This amendment enables NHS England to obtain trans people’s confidential information about their medical treatment for the purpose of research into child and adolescent gender services by the Cass Review. Specifically, it enables the acquisition of information (a) that could contain personal identifying details, (b) without that person’s consent, and (c) for individuals who obtained specific legal protections with the reasonable belief that these would remain in place. There has been no community consultation ahead of this move.
As a social researcher and expert in ethical methodologies, I believe that any research undertaken under these circumstances would represent an enormous breach of the basic principles of research ethics. Moreover, it will could significantly undermine the already extremely low existing low level of trust between trans community members, researchers, and medical practitioners.
Finally, the amendment also represents a significant weakening of the Gender Recognition Act’s legal protections for trans people (although for a full and measured analysis, see this post by What The Trans).
I have therefore written to the NHS England’s Gender Identity Programme Board to express my concerns about this development. I also hope that any university or NHS ethical panel overseeing the approval of such research will prevent it from taking place.
There have been some really exciting developments in England over the last couple of months for trans birth parents (that is: men and non-binary people who conceive, carry, and give birth to their own children).
In April, a groundbreaking report on Trans and Non-Binary Experiences of Maternity Services was published by the LGBT Foundation. I am really proud to have co-authored parts of this report with colleagues in NHS England and the LGBT Foundation, and to have supported the research which informs it.
The report, which was funded by NHS England, offers a sobering account of healthcare inequalities for trans birth parents. However, it also includes important examples of good practice and recommendations for professionals.
Trans people’s experiences of perinatal care are consistently worse across the board compared with cis women.
30% of trans birth parents didn’t access perinatal healthcare at all during pregnancy – this compares to less than 2.1% of the general population.
Transphobia and racism in perinatal care intersect to produce particularly poor outcomes for trans parents of colour.
Recommendations include: supporting the delivery of personalised and trauma-informed perinatal care; proactively adopting inclusive language and targeting outreach to trans birth parents; and implementing IT and demographic monitoring systems to enable the sensitive collection of data about gender identity and trans status in perinatal services.
Excitingly, it appears that work is already underway on many of these points. For example, last year a fabulous series of resources for practitioners were published by Brighton and Sussex Gender Inclusion Midwives, and I have heard good things about progress on trans-inclusive data collection.
Best of all, NHS England now provide a range of tailored, accessible advice to trans parents as part of their new guide to having a baby if you’re LGBT+. This includes ways to become a parent, advice on testosterone and pregnancy, and chestfeeding/breastfeeding for men and transmasculine non-binary people.
These resources should really be seen as a starting point (for example, there is no advice for trans women who breastfeed). But equally, it is brilliant to see progress being made on the provision of practical advice that will help prospective and new parents. I am especially grateful to an NHS whistleblower who ensured their dissemination through revealing to The i that their publication had been blocked by some senior figures at NHS England for nearly a year.
This all serves as an important reminder that NHS England is not a monolith, and that concerted pressure from community groups and allies can have real long-term benefits.
It’s very easy to be cynical about our NHS given the poor overall state of trans healthcare, as well as opposition to equitable provision by some within the health service. However, all the positive moves I have reported in this post are also the result of hard work by numerous NHS midwives and members of the NHS digital team. Alongside community members who generously offered their time and knowledge, they have collectively fought to ensure that trans birth parents and the practitioners who work with them have access to resources and information.
All of this makes me feel hugely optimistic. These are difficult times, in which prejudice and disinformation are rife. Yet ordinary people are still fighting – successfully! – for positive change. This new research and guidance should be of great help to new parents and their children, and for that we can be grateful.
To celebrate this year’s umpteenth hit-piece on trans equality, I thought I might tell a little story about toilets.
On Friday, The Times reported that the University of Warwick has been “criticised for its ‘capture’ by Stonewall”, as evidenced by guidance asking people to challenge their biases, plus a proliferation of gender-neutral pronouns and toilets.
This coverage struck me as both unsurprising and bizarre. Unsurprising, as Stonewall have recently been subject to a barrage of homophobic and transphobic coverage from the likes of The Times, the BBC, The Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail etc etc. But also bizarre, as this is simply not news – all of the initiatives described have been underway for many years now, and they were hardly introduced by Stonewall.
As such, this feels like a good opportunity to explore the forgotten history of one of these initiatives: the introduction of all-gender toilets at Warwick, and in UK universities more widely.
I first became involved in campaigning for all-gender toilets in 2007. Using public toilets was a huge fear for me when I first transitioned. Fortunately, it turned out I was able to use women’s toilets without any trouble, but many of my queer siblings were not so lucky. I met and read about many trans people and other gender-nonconforming individuals, especially butch lesbians, who faced abuse and harassment in toilets due to their appearance. All-gender toilets offer a level of safety and access for people who don’t necessarily tick binary gendered boxes.
I was inspired therefore to learn about campaigns for all-gender bathrooms in US universities, through blogs, forums, and the 2004-05 TV documentary TransGeneration. I teamed up with some friends to write a motion for the 2007 National Union of Students (NUS) LGBT conference, calling on the NUS LGBT to campaign for equal toilet access. The motion passed with a near-unanimous vote, and you can see the text of the resulting policy below:
Of course, we were hardly the first people to undertake such campaigns in the UK. In 2002, Benjamin Cohen wrote an (unsuccessful) motion in favour of gender-neutral toilets for the King’s College London Student Representative Council. In 2005, an NUS LGBT briefing stated that ‘ideally a unisex toilet would […] be provided for those who feel uncomfortable defining into male or female’. Plus, throughout the 2000s “unisex” toilets were introduced in many UK nightclubs, although their owners were generally not so interested in the welfare of clubbers.
Buoyed by the success of our NUS LGBT motion, I took a similar proposal to the Students’ Union (SU) Council at the University of Warwick later in 2007. The motion was passed, albeit with an amendment to say that we would “investigate the possibility” of providing accessible toilet facilities for trans people, instead of committing to actually providing them. I invited Riley Coles, a student campaigner from the University of Bradford, down to Coventry to speak in support of the motion as they had recently introduced all-gender toilets at Bradford SU (you can hear Riley’s side of the story here). In turn, I was invited to speak in support of all-gender toilet policies at various Student Unions, including at Manchester and Sheffield as well as Bradford.
What we rapidly realised was that having a policy isn’t the same as achieving an outcome. NUS LGBT introduced numerous policies at its conference every year, and student officers simply didn’t have time to campaign on all of them. Moreover, at the time the campaign was dominated primarily by cis gay men and lesbians. Consequently, all-gender toilets were not to become an NUS LGBT campaign priority until the 2010s.
Similarly, having a policy at Warwick SU did not translate into the immediate introduction of all-gender toilets in the SU building, let alone across the university campus. It took a concerted campaign across many years to make that happen, involving innumerable staff and students. All-gender toilets were first introduced in odd corners of the SU building, then occasionally elsewhere on campus, and then gradually in new buildings before being more widely rolled out. This process took well over a decade.
In opening up new conversations about toilets, we rapidly realised that all-gender toilets were not just beneficial to trans and gender non-conforming people. For example, single parents benefited from being able to accompany young children of a different gender into facilities, and carers could do the same with people they cared for.
Equally, we knew that all-gender toilets were not appropriate for all people. Some women and men do not share gendered spaces for religious reasons. Women and girls who have experienced male harassment and violence may also not wish to share spaces with men. We therefore campaigned for an “additive” approach, with all-gender toilets available alongside women’s and men’s facilities: the approach eventually adopted by the University of Warwick.
Additionally, some service providers sought to introduce all-gender toilets at the expense of disabled people, much to our frustration. If single-cubicle “accessible” toilets are the only all-gender toilets available, it can increase the number of people using these facilities, to the detriment of disabled people who require them. We therefore urged university bodies that this was not an adequate solution.
These issues were explored in detail in a briefing published by West Midlands Area NUS (WMANUS) in 2007. This document also included a series of sample arguments in favour of all-gender toilets, case study examples of their implementation, and model motions for Students’ Unions. I also included a section on toilets in the Under Construction: Trans Studentsguide I wrote for the NUS in 2008.
By 2009 I started my postgraduate studies and took a step back from toilet campaigns. However, there was no shortage of new activists to step into the breach. There are too many to name them all, but one of the key figures has been Sam Parr, who continues to push for more accessible toilets for all on the University of Warwick campus through endless meetings and consultation exercises.
By the mid-2010s, all-gender toilets could be found on many university campuses and other public buildings, including at Warwick. In 2017, when I organised a conference about the gender equality scheme Athena SWAN, I was delighted hear a conversation among a group of cis equality and diversity workers about how best to make the case for all-gender toilet provision at their institution.
Meanwhile, when I spoke to a new generation of student activists, I began to hear complaints around how some campaigners focused too much on toilets as an “easy” campaign priority, rather than tackling issues such as trans healthcare, employment, and housing. Certainly, an all-gender toilet will not put food on your plate or a roof above your head. They must be part of a wider struggle for liberation.
Still, that struggle continues. So I was delighted to hear from colleagues this week that sanitary bins will soon be available in all toilets across campus at the University of Warwick, especially for the benefit of trans and/or disabled men who might require them in men’s facilities. You can see a reference to this idea in our original 2007 policy, albeit with some pretty awkward phrasing!
Trans histories tend to be forgotten. They are frequently not written down, and are often lost due to a lack of intergenerational contact. The only way we can change that is through sharing our stories and building back our history. I hope this post can help with that a little.
I have not named numerous individuals involved in the campaigns I describe in this post as I am aware that doing so could result in harassment. However, if you see yourself in this story and would like to be named, please let me know and I will gladly edit this post to credit your work!
About a month ago I participated in the TPATH conference. This groundbreaking online event centred trans healthcare practice, research, and activism by and for trans people.
I was very impressed with the measures taken by TPATH organisers to ensure the conference was accessible to as many people as possible from around the world. They organised live translation to and from English, French, and Spanish, provided live captioning, encouraged presenters to speak slowly and clearly to enable lipreading, and ensured that generous scholarships were available for those who would not otherwise afford to attend. Most of the event was recorded, and videos are gradually being uploaded to the TPATH Youtube channel.
At the conference I joined Tash Oakes-Monger from NHS England to present initial findings from the ITEMS project (Improving Trans Experiences of Maternity Services). The ITEMS team, led by Michael Petch from the LGBT Foundation, ran a survey in early 2021 to explore the experiences of trans people (including non-binary people) who give birth in England. I supported the design and dissemination of the survey through my former role with the Trans Learning Partnership.
There is some really exciting information emerging from the ITEMS data. For example, it appears that more trans people are giving birth than ever before (see above). However, it was also apparent that trans people face substantial inequalities.
Many of the questions in the ITEMS survey used comparable wording to the CQC Maternity Survey – from this we can see that trans people appear more likely to have negative experiences in NHS maternity services than cis women across the board. Even more disturbing is that 30% of trans respondents gave birth without the support of an NHS or private midwife (rising to 46% among trans people of colour). This indicates a lack of trust in midwifery services among prospective trans birth parents, with potentially lethal consequences for both parent and baby.