An Open Letter to the National Union of Students

Dear NUS,

Firstly, my I say that I have been a member of your organisation in my student days, and I appreciate the lengths you have gone to in order to represent the needs of your members and indeed, all students around the country over the years.

However, I have grave misgivings with regards to your recent assertion that ‘crossdressing’ and ‘drag’ are Transphobic, and the subsequent proposals to curtail instances of such activities upon student premises will serve to have a far more negative impact on Trans people, than it would if you just allowed such practices to continue.

I am a Transwoman, and activist, and I am aware of the concerns that may lead you to believe that this course of action is appropriate, but please listen to the warnings of an actual Transwoman with her fingers on the pulse, so to speak.

First off, ‘Drag’ and ‘Crossdressing’ ARE NOT the same thing as being Trans. You know this. Everyone in the LGBT community knows this. People who partake in these activities (be they male or female) are not pretending to be Trans, nor are they doing so to denigrate Trans people. It is an act of expression that has a long history in British cultural tradition. From Pantomime Dames to cheeky Drag Queens, to subverting the themes of a ‘Tarts & Vicars’ party, or a rugby squad railing against the expectations of their own masculinity, Crossdressing has served many purposes. To condemn it as an attack on Transgender people not only shows a very cynical view of what you believe it is to be Transgender, it actually restricts the rights of everyone to subvert and mock societal expectations of expected gender roles.

Secondly, what do you mean by ‘Crossdressing’? Women can be argued to ‘cross dress’ every time they put on a pair of jeans or a plaid shirt. This combination seems rather in vogue these days. Are we to assume that such adoption of traditionally male garb is to be banned? What of those who are androgynous, or non-binary in their gender expression? What of those who are Transgender but are not living full time for various reasons? What of those Transgender people who, for some reason or another stand out? Are we to assume the NUS will condone the harassment of these people? Will you insist they be forced to justify their gender expression to the satisfaction of staff or other NUS representatives? Being Trans is hard enough without having to justify your gender identity at every turn to people who are supposed to be your friends and allies. Your vision of Trans-safe spaces will only draw attention to people who are all too often sat in a corner praying that no one pays attention to them. Your actions have already caused a backlash within the LGBT community against Trans members.

Thirdly, IF you wish to create a Trans friendly space, then you do so by insisting your members treat Trans people like they would any other, NOT by restricting the right to expression of others. If people are intent on causing distress to any Transgender individual or group, then it must be dealt with on an individual basis, and in line with any equality policies already in effect. Singling out Trans people for the kid-glove treatment is NOT what most Trans people want. Most Trans people want to get on with our lives without drawing attention unless it is on our terms. Not everyone is a hate-crime time-bomb that must be herded and corralled, and when you treat them as such, it is those who you profess to be protecting that get the full blast.

In the name of sanity, reason and damage limitation, I urge you to rethink your policies on these matters.

Regards

Tamlyn Ailsa MacPherson

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Filed under LGBT, Student Activism, Trans Activism, trans issues

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