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Home > Culture and Society

Between Two Stools

17 March 2006

It can't be easy, being transsexual. No two ways about it. Especially if you're a man who is in the process of 'transitioning' and you don't 'pass' particularly well. Or in other words, especially if rather than looking like a woman, you still look like a bloke in a dress. Unsurprisingly, transsexuals of this cast are subject to a lot of abuse when they're out and about, especially if they have to avail themselves of public conveniences. On one door, it says 'Ladies', on another 'Gentlemen'. Of course, transsexuals know exactly to which category they belong because they have the scars and the certificate to prove it, but others might not see it that way. Disconcerted by this deviation from the sexual norm, it often happens that other people's fear and confusion turns to disgust and anger. Situations arise. It isn't easy. That's why this week the Metropolitan Police Service were pleased to offer their whole-hearted support to new guidelines seeking to take some of the sting out of transsexuals' toilet habits.

The Which Loo? guide is the result of a two-year consultation between Aurora, a Croydon-based LGBT group, and Croydon Police. It is split into three sections: 'Before you use the loo', 'When you're in the loo' and, all going well, 'When you leave the loo'. The Sun covered the story of Scotland Yard's endorsement of the guide with its trademark sensitivity and tact, tossing words like 'trannies' and 'gender-benders' around with great smirking alacrity. It even tracked down a no-nonsense speak-as-I-find ex-Flying Squad commander to provide the necessary outrage. 'It's a pathetic waste of resources,' screamed John O'Connor. 'Police should get back to preserving life and property and preventing crime. Trivia like this gives an impression police have nothing
better to do.'

Reading the guidelines however, it seems to us that the problem is not that valuable resources have been 'wasted' - we're all in favour of helping to protect tiny oft-persecuted minorities - someone's got to after all. Rather the problem is one of the tenor of the advice meted out, which seems to suggest that the writers of the guidelines have confused the word 'transsexuals' with the words 'absolute fucking morons'. Noting that most 'MtF' transsexuals in the early stages of transitioning are well aware that going into the Gents when dressed as a woman is often 'too dangerous', Which Loo? suggests, 'think ahead (e.g.) if you're on a train, use the (unisex) loo - don't wait till your journey is over.' Well, du-ur. 'Consider using handicapped or unisex loos when possible.' And when you've actually picked your loo, 'Go in confidently, do your business, wash your hands and leave.' Right. Don't loiter by the sink, lift your skirt over your head and start singing, 'I'm a ladyboy and I'm OK'. Don't even think it.

Added to the patronising tone of the advice is the sense that transsexuals should be accepting of the prejudice of others, and be ready to adopt the role of second-class citizen, hunted and marginalised. This following passage in particular, as well as bringing home just how much fear and loathing many transsexuals have to endure, has that sense of 'you may have to live your life in fear. Sorry, but that's just the way it is':

'Motorway service stations encourage you to park and go straight to the eating place to find its loo. If you do this, when you leave the loo, and queue up at the food counter, other travellers are more likely to call the police. As it's a service station there are usually police at hand, and you will be sitting over your tea and scones when they arrive. You can sometimes avoid this situation:
- Re-fuel and use the handicapped or unisex loo in the petrol station.

- If there's more than one eating place use the loo in one, then eat in the other

- Sometimes you can use the loo on one side of the motorway and eat on the other.'

Where's the sense of Transsexual Pride? Where's the defiance? Where are the slogans? 'We're here, we're eating scones, we're slightly unusual for sure, but fuck you! Get used to it.' Still, despite the mousiness of the campaign, transsexual spokespersons are pleased that the issue is being discussed at all. 'It's important that trans-people know that the police are aware of the problem and are trying to help the whole community stay safe,' said Michelle, who received her certificate of gender recognition last year. Of course Michelle is right. Being persecuted, patronised and marginalised has got to be better than being persecuted and completely ignored. Marginally.

Those Guidelines in Full.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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