India Willoughby, transvestites deserve protection too


Hi India,

How are you? Years ago we used to frequent the same forum site so even though we’ve never met, I view you with the same fondness I feel for an old friend. Things have turned out great for you after coming out, you’re making a real positive change in peoples lives and I’m so happy for you. I’ll even admit to being a secret Loose Women watcher! I read your article in Pink News with a little sadness, not only because I disagree but also after reading your twitter feed, nobody deserves that kind of knee jerk reaction.

It’s all too easy at the moment for someone to claim transgender rights who isn’t actually transgender. And it’s making life dangerous. Soon, someone is going to get seriously hurt … Unless you are transitioning, stay out of the ladies. Pulling on a frock as and when the mood takes doesn’t cut it. You don’t have a God-given right to go into female-only spaces. … Transgender has become a horrible, vague word that makes no distinction between someone with a medical condition requiring intervention, and a bloke who likes to frock-up once a week.

I disagree here on a few points, first is that the word ‘transgender’ has always been a catch all term for many identities, it means different things to different people. It’s meaning isn’t and never has been used to describe only people who transition. Identities shift over time and to me, the word ‘transgender’ reflects that.

Before transition, when everybody thought I was a man, I had a big secret. I was so ashamed of this secret that at 25 I had never shared it with a single person I knew. I was a transvestite. I went to work on a building site during the day and in the evenings, pulled on a charity shop frock to relax. I didn’t know much about being trans but the adverts in the back on The Sunday People told me I was a dirty transvestite, something to be ashamed of.

I came out first to my then partner and some close friends as a transvestite and as I grew in confidence we would go to clubs and events on occasion. Each and every time would be a nerve wracking experience though, as I still carried the shame society put on me. The word ‘transphobia’ was still unknown to me but I was deathly afraid of being confronted by someone who read me. I still needed to use the bathroom and was faced with a transvestite dilemma; use the ladies or the mens. Presenting as female in the mens? I’d rather wet myself and accidentally on purpose spill a pint over my lap.

The often drunk men at their urinals scared the life out of me. They didn’t care whether I was a transvestite or a transsexual from outer space. So I stayed out of danger and used the ladies. You know what transvestites do when they use the loo? They pee, wash their hands, maybe fix their makeup and leave.

After coming out I discovered trans forum sites and for the first time in my life read about the experiences of other people like me. There were people who sat on almost every piece of the identity spectrum, from teenage transitioners seeking heartfelt advice through to cis men who just had a fetish and were role playing. My identity shifted in this period of self discovery too, first calling myself a TGirl, then transsexual and finally, I say I’m  a trans woman now.

The problem with saying ‘unless you’re transitioning, stay out of the ladies’ is that it puts people in danger, you talk of this being dangerous and that somebody is going to get hurt yet completely miss the danger that gender variant people will be put in by enforcing that rule. An attacker doesn’t care how someone identifies, there’s no get out of jail free cards dresses masculine 9-5. I was a muscled up builder by day but that meant nothing when a guy ripped my wig off and threw it across the dancefloor.

You ask what transvestites are risking by being themselves? Equality laws do not cover cross dressers who have no desire to transition. I have read the experiences of people who have lost their career because they were outed as a weekend dresser. Without the protection of the Equality Act I would say they risk more than us. Todays cross dressers, transvestites and TGirls might also be tomorrow’s trans women.

Like it or not, the trans umbrella covers all gender variant people and we as a community are only as strong as our weakest link. From the school age boy playing with a Barbie through weekend cross dressers, all the way to trans women, there are harmful stereotypes to be challenged and people who deserve equal protections.

I just think that we should be more inclusive, rather than dividing into smaller factions.