Building bridges between trans folk and cis allies

In a common law democracy to get any form of legislation enacted, or bring a case to court to produce new case law, requires a series of people to both agree that these are wise courses of action and help push both over the line. The issue trans folk face is that while there are some highly qualified and successful members of the trans community, we still only make up 1 to 2% of the over population in any given country. This means that to enact the changes we desire we need to build bridges, find common ground, and potentially compromise with cisgender allies. This is complicated, messy, and likely to disappoint, yet it is essential to progress trans rights and normativity.

It is one of those half truths of the trans community that you put five trans folk in a room together and you end up with ten different opinions. As a community we all come from different backgrounds, have different life experiences, and expect different things from the society we live in. Some of us are radical socialists, others borderline anarchists, still others small c conservatives, and everything in between. We are not a homogenous group, and our ideas of how to construct trans rights is often disparate and at odds with other trans people. In light of this, to enact any form of legislative change requires either a charismatic figurehead who can push through a compromised agenda, or the current ad hoc series of court cases that further rights based on individual needs and experiences.

Yes, this is being reductive, but if the trans experience is individualistic, how do we get cis allies to tack a path forward that is as inclusive as possible? If a trans person wishes to get marries, have children, live as their desired gender with the full rights granted in society to that gender, then these are the sort of obvious fights that cis lawyers and law makers can readily understand and with empathy help enact. What about the Hassidic Jewish trans woman who wants access to the children left behind in the ultra-orthodox community she has just left behind when she transitioned? Or the detransitioned woman who feels aggrieved by the medical care she feels mislead her? Or the trans woman who was outed by a Sunday tabloid, and needs to sue her ex-husband for a holiday home? All real cases, all complex, and all handled by cis judges and barristers. Trans rights are in the hands of cis folk, and each of them must make an approximate understanding of the trans experience in to reach a decision.

This is more than simple allyship. It is about understanding the individual trans narrative in order to make a wider judgement or legislation that impacts all trans people. The trans father whose fatherhood is stripped away because a judge deems motherhood a defined characteristic, meaning that all trans men are legally mothers until the government chooses to change the law. Narrative matters, and while we can assert that trans rights are human rights, it is the cis folk who have little understanding of the gendered lives we lead who have to protect, enforce, and shape those rights.

There is a belief that the onus should be on cis folk to do the learning and education when it comes to trans identities, that trans people are tired of always educating the cis. I agree with this, to a point. What version of trans do cis people encounter? The radical no fucks given variety, or the white picket heteronormative variety? Working class voices lost in a sea of middle-class journalism, or the disgruntled axe to grind detransitioner with a soap box? Whose voice is learned from matters. Whose narrative is told and retold, which pain is repackaged in the papers, which blogs get amplified. The lessons cis folk learn is the one that is readily digestible, the one that is easiest to spin.

If we want legislation and impactful case law we need to find narratives that cut through the simple, show the complexity of trans lives in their panoply of truth, both the joy and the pain. It is not enough to show the tragedy of the commons, those who do not get book deals or newspaper headlines. We need to show that trans lives are normative, that we do in fact go to the supermarket, buy lattes (though not at that price point), watch TV, lead mundane lives. The vast majority of trans lives are spent doing the boring things, the housework, 9 to 5 jobs, enjoying a cuppa. We are normative in all the things, with maybe a dash of quirk and weird thrown in the mix for fun times. The point is, for all our differences, it is in the desire to lead a life free from slings and arrows, to just be that marks our common ground. I believe this is the bridge we can most strongly walk across with our cis allies, a narrative of hospitality that forges a common narrative between trans and cis folk alike.



Writer, researcher, and generally curious

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