feature image by Martin Pope courtesy of Getty Images
Yesterday, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed his bigoted anti-trans beliefs in a speech at the Conservative Party Conference.
As The Washington Post reports, after declaring his desire for harsher prison sentences, Sunak then listed other positions he believes shouldn’t be controversial.
“And it also shouldn’t be controversial for parents to know what their children are being taught in school about relationships,” he began. “Patients should know when hospitals are talking about men and women. And we shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be. They can’t. A man is a man and a woman is a woman. That’s just common sense.”
Sunak has a history of transphobic comments and jokes, but this is the most matter-of-fact he’s been on his position.
It’s painful to wake up to a headline like this. It was painful for me, and I’m sure it’s even more painful for anyone who lives in the U.K. We can form insular communities, we can find other trans people and cis people who support us, and we can develop a strong sense of self. It’s still painful — not to mention scary — when our political leaders want to deny our existence.
These talking points aren’t just emotionally painful. They’re also connected to policy. Even before Sunak became Prime Minister, accessing trans healthcare in the U.K. was challenging. For people who can’t afford private medicine, waitlists can take years. With all the talk of pronouns and self-identity in the U.K., the U.S., and beyond, what’s often lost is the tangible repercussions of trans people’s genders not being respected. We want medicine, we want employment, we want housing, we want physical safety, we want to not be in prison — of any gender. Those are the priorities of most trans people.
But The Washington Post article doesn’t only include this speech — it also includes some comforting statistics. Citing a survey from 2022 of about 5,000 residents of Great Britain from the think tank More In Common, they report that less than a third of people disagree with the statement that “a trans man is a man and a trans woman is a woman.”
This might be a low bar for allyship, but it’s also worth noting another statistic from that same survey: Less than 2% of people think “the debate about transgender people” is one of the most important issues facing the country.
I wish we had more vocal allies. We’ll need them when leaders like Sunak are so vocally hateful. But there is some comfort in the fact that most people simply do not care about us one way or another. That apathy will not help us secure our rights, but it can be helpful to remember when logging on the internet makes it feel like every person in the world hates us.
It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to feel upset. I’m scared. I’m upset. But I also think speeches like this are given for two reasons: to rally a hateful base and to exhaust us so we don’t fight back as hard as we need to.
We can fight that exhaustion by remembering these people are a minority. We can fight that exhaustion by caring for each other. We can fight that exhaustion by registering the connection between Sunak’s “tough on crime” stance and his transphobia — and working to liberate every marginalized group who suffer due to these positions.
We can fight that exhaustion by just living another day in our beautiful trans lives.