A Black Transfeminist Critique: The Othering of Black Trans People in the UK
Written by Mariam Orelaja
The Tory Government plans to block Scotland’s Gender Reform Bill supressing Trans Rights in the UK with Black Trans People being hit the hardest.
The new Gender Recognition reform bill pushed by the Scottish Government provides transgender people with the right to change their legal gender without a medical diagnosis.
The Tory Government has pushed back on the bill, prioritizing concerns that it will compromise the safety of women and children. Gender-critical and trans-exclusionary radical feminists believe that trans rights are a threat to mobility and womanhood.
Black Feminist and Black Trans Feminist thought both provide scholarship that critiques the gender essentialist views upheld by the Tory Government and trans-exclusionary feminists. The Combahee River Collective and Black Trans Feminism by Marquis Bey both use an intersectional lens to highlight the unique experiences of black trans and gender non-conforming people.
Identifying the additional constraints that they experience as their sexual identities and racial identities are targeted under white patriarchy. In the Combahee River collective statement, the group of black feminists establishes their position on feminism and highlights the intersections of race, gender, heterosexism, and class.
The Combahee River collective and Black Trans Feminist scholarship acknowledge that the liberation of all oppressed groups necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy.
Unfortunately, this is absent in the mainstream Trans Rights Movements in the UK, which mainly focuses on the experiences of white trans people used as spokespersons for all trans people despite the privileges that they hold within the community.
Although The Trans Rights Movement in the UK experiences its fair share of transantagonism and transphobia from conservative government and British media outlets, it fails to adequately address the othering of black trans people who mobilise for the rights of all trans people in the UK.
There are multiple constraints that black trans people in the UK are subjected to, including social and financial exclusion, unemployment, police brutality, and limited access to healthcare. Black transfeminism highlights the challenges that Black Trans- and gender-diverse people face in the carceral and healthcare systems.
These challenges are usually related to inappropriate diagnosis, delayed care, and denial of adequate treatment and discrimination. British laws do not do enough to address the trans healthcare crisis or the victimisation that Black trans people experience when reporting hate crimes to the police. It also fails to provide adequate provisions that address the racial disparities that exist between Black Trans people and their white counterparts within the judicial system.
Black Trans people in the UK battle with exclusion from all communities, especially when they have other intersections in their identity, such as disabilities, sexuality, and limited proximity to British beauty standards. Othering is experienced in the black community, which questions their gender identities and the racial disparities they experience in the trans community. With discrimination towards Black Trans people in the UK on the rise, it is important for their white counterparts to dismantle the systems that celebrate their exclusion.
According to the Ministry of Justice (2021), there were 197 transgender prisoners as of April 30, 2021, an increase from 163 in 2019. From this figure ‘11% of the transgender prison population were from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic background, this is an increase from 6% in 2019.’ (Ministry Of Justice, 2022).
This briefly identifies the racial constraints that Black transgender people experience as they are put through the penal system. More awareness should be brought to racial disparities that criminalise and restrict the lives of transgender people in the UK.
Black people are 9 times more likely to be stopped compared to their white counterparts, as there is a perception that Black Trans People do not deserve the same visibility and protection offered to their White and Cisgendered counterparts.
The history of European colonialism is still present and can be seen in punitive immigration practices in the UK, as people seeking asylum were sent to Rwanda despite its trans-exclusionary politics.
The acknowledgement of British colonialism and its importation of transphobia and queerphobia is presently seen in the maltreatment of commonwealth citizens. This is particularly important as it intersects with the experiences of Black Trans People in the UK, who have an ancestry or dual nationality that is tied to the countries in commonwealth.
In her book, the Invention of Women, Oyeronke Oyewumi, informs us that the gender binary is a Western import that was brought via British Colonial Rule. As A Yoruba Non-Binary person, I am aware of the presence of Gender Fluidity in African countries such as Nigeria during the pre-colonial era, as gendered pronouns were not in use until the importation of gender essentialist policies introduced by the West.
In British colonialism and the criminalization of homosexuality, Han and O’Mahoney also support this explanation of the history behind homophobic and transphobic legislation that was imported during British Colonial Rule into countries located in the global south, which are still currently used to uphold gender-essentialism and cisheteronormative politics. With 30 of the former British colonies still preserving homophobic and transphobic laws the Trans Rights Movement needs to push back against racial disparities upheld by the capitalist state.
The decolonization of the curriculum is an important avenue that can be used to establish the existence of black trans people and the vast contributions they have made in history. However, the exclusionary practices that exist in the institution of education will continue to thrive if legislation in the UK encourages punitiveness and facilitates the disenfranchisement of black trans people.
The visibility of Black Trans People in the UK will only develop when they are treated equitably and provided with opportunities to share their nuanced experiences without fear of exclusion and harassment.