Ireland is still a relatively safe and accepting place for transgender people, says Aoife Martin. In a world where many countries are lurching to the right, she wonders why programmes like Prime Time areencouraging "toxic debate"
Last night, RTE’s flagship current affairs programme, Prime Time, was about trans issues in Ireland. As an Irish trans woman myself and a member of the board of TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland), I made a conscious decision not to watch this programme. Let me tell you why.
I knew, weeks ago, that this programme was coming up. Sara Philips, the chair of TENI, had agreed to participate as had other members of the trans community. I naively thought that this programme would be an informative piece on our community but at the end of last Thursday’s Prime Time episode, they aired a promo for the show. It talked about an “explosion” in the number of young people looking to change their gender and it featured Graham Linehan, co?creator of Father Ted and writer of comedies such as Black Books and The IT Crowd, comparing being transgender to being anorexic.
Linehan has been at the centre of a toxic debate in the UK around transgender rights and, in particular, proposals to change the law in that country to allow trans people to self?identify. He has consistently spoken over trans people and their allies, has misgendered and dead?named trans people, and has referred to gender-affirming surgery as “mutilation”. Linehan is not a medical expert and he is not trans. He has no expertise in this area. So, in the same way that Linehan is talking about a subject he knows nothing about, I’m going to talk about a programme I didn’t watch.
It’s not easy being trans. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. We have to navigate an often hostile world, trying to knock down barriers, fighting for our rights to be treated with dignity and respect and equality.
Let’s put our cards on the table here. RTE only had Linehan on because (a) he’s relatively famous and (b) they knew it would be controversial. And yes, it has generated controversy. Last night, the top?trending hashtag on Twitter was #TurnOffPrimeTime, an online petition set up last Saturday requesting that RTE remove Linehan from the programme has amassed over 5,000 signatures and a protest was organised outside RTE last night. Linehan was interviewed by the Irish Times and the Irish Independent. He also appeared on 98FM and, presumably, elsewhere. Indeed, driving into work this morning I heard that Breakfast Show on Newstalk would discuss this “contentious” issue.
It’s not, or it shouldn’t be, a contentious issue. It’s not easy being trans. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. We have to navigate an often hostile world, trying to knock down barriers, fighting for our rights to be treated with dignity and respect and equality. We have to fight to access the medical care that we need just to be ourselves, jumping through hoops to prove that we are trans enough to access that care. Stepping outside the door for the first time as a trans person is an act of huge bravery. Doing so every day, even more so. Trans people are visible by the very nature of being trans.
There’ll be more talk on radio programmes today. Parents of trans kids will have to listen to uninformed voices who will express concern that they are “transing” their kids.
Ireland is still a relatively safe and accepting place for transgender people and we want to keep it that way. We do not need the toxic debate that is happening in the UK to take hold here. And yet, by airing the views of Linehan and others on last night’s programme Prime Time have done just that. There’ll be more talk on radio programmes today. Parents of trans kids will have to listen to uninformed voices who will express concern that they are “transing” their kids. Any parent who has tried to get their 4-year-old to wear something they didn’t want to wear knows just how ridiculous that is.
We’re living in a world where many countries are lurching to the right. Yesterday the US Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to begin enforcing its transgender military ban. Brexit, with its talk of trade agreements and imports and exports, dominates the news agenda.
But this is one import we can do without.