U.K. Prime Minister Represents a Dangerous Anti-Trans Minority — But It Is a Minority

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.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 552 articles for us.

9 Comments

      • No one voted to have Sunak as PM except his own party and even that was only because his predecessor did such an appalling job she was forced to resign. It’s not much comfort but next to no one voted in support of his policies and views. Which doesn’t mean that they won’t at the next election but the Tories are digging themselves a deeper hole by the day.

        It says a lot that the first I’m hearing of this is on a US site and not the British media.

    • Theres no need for you to apologise your obviously a good person who cares, we thank you very much.
      He’s a dictator, but probably a unemployed one as of next year.
      Oh well he’ll have his millions to keep him and his doxy’s warm lol.

  1. It’s really nice to see a standalone piece here about politics outside of the US. Realistically I know that this website is staffed predominantly (perhaps entirely?) by Americans with a largely American readership, but it’s hard to find coverage of international news and politics from the type of perspective Autostraddle brings to the table. Anyways, great article and I hope there’s more like this to come!

  2. Thank you for covering this! If anyone wants to know more about the situation over here on terf island, I really recommend Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue. (though sadly things have gotten worse since it was published in 2021)

  3. God I hate Rishi Sunak. And I bet the ‘gender critical’ brigade are congratulating themselves.

    And once again very carefully not asking themselves why it is that the only people who agree with their version of ‘feminism’ are extremely regressive and right wing conservatives.

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