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.





6 thoughts on “India Willoughby, transvestites deserve protection too

  1. I agree with you sarah, althougj i am a trans woman who is transitioning with the help of the GIC, i have several friends who identafi ad female who do mot want to go fully ;nto transition. They are to me still girls wh; i l;ve as my friends and for
    anybody to say that they are wrong i would ask simply . who made you judge.? Live your own life and leave others to live theirs.

  2. I am not sure how I feel about this. I am cautious about buying into a kind of elitist attitude, as regards this subject and fuelling a *divisiveness* that broods within our ranks.
    I have to say that during my early transition, and before when I used to just dress up, I only used female toilets in LGBT or similar events. I braved the men’s room, and felt great social discomfort doing so, but I overcame my fear of harm by training three nights a week at martial arts and self defence!
    Not everyone’s cup of tea and probably an excessively pragmatic approach.
    It is all in the past now and I am unsure what the answer is.
    Halfway through transition, my gender therapist from the clinic was worried that I was causing myself undue stress by using the wrong, (mens), facilities and furnished me with a formal letter of gender endorsement to carry in my purse.
    As a parent, it worried me that my presence might upset a protective mother. Also, I didn’t want to freak the bejeebers out of someone’s poor aging grandmother!
    That is what I did! It worked for me and I look back at the whole scenario as a part of transition and I see the moment of acceptance in this way as somewhat of a rite of passage, or *coming of age*!
    I don’t think I could possibly stand and say my way was right however! Perhaps some endorsement could be available for the TV/DC community as we trans people get that automatically with our id documents?!

  3. I read the original Pink News article assuming that she would be coming out in support of our friends in the trans community but it felt like she was trying to divide it through this wedge of ‘transition’. Just because someone has undergone transition or started transition should not make them any more a woman than those who have felt to have been born in the wrong body, but for whatever reason have not decided to change it. If we discriminate against the latter, we fall into the same TERF hatecamp. Sarah seems to have abandoned her own camp or now that she has found a little bit of fame and comfort through her celebrity, she does not care about others. Shameful.

  4. I’d like to remove the word “transvestite” from the lexicon. There are no “transvestites”; there are transgender people, some of whom transition and some of whom neither can, need or want to. India Willoughby’s article was deeply offensive in so many ways. She would most probably regard me as a “transvestite” who “frocks up” when “the mood takes me”. She couldn’t be more wrong. No, I’m not transitioning and never will. Why? Because it would destroy my marriage and break up my family. As a compromise, I express my true gender identity whenever I can. It’s not “frocking up” or “expressing my girly side”, it’s being the true me. And when I am “safe” back men’s clothes, I’m depressed. I’m not my true identity. It doesn’t fee “safe” to me. And when I am in my true female identity, I will use female toilets and no one is doing to stop me.

  5. Thank you for challenging India Willoughby’s article Sarah. When I read that on Pink News my heart sank. Yeah again someone is suggesting that we must some kind of test of transness before we can be accepted and until that time must be regarded as “dangerous”. What she published was a TERFs delight and gave them scope to fire off another salvo at all of us.
    I am quite sure that I would not pass India’s test myself and thus she would not have me use female toilets, something I do without hesitation all the time. But then at work I am Rose, at home I am Rose and when out socially I am Rose. Most of the time, but not all of the time. And what is more I know I pass well and fit in as cis-normal in my everyday life.
    So why don’t I pass that test? Well you have challenged the definition of transgender here but I also want to challenge the use of the term transition. I suspect that India’s idea of what transition means involves surgery. I have not had any surgery, partly because I am still on an interminable GIC waiting list, partly from health complications and partly because I have reached a compromise with my wife.
    I remember what it was like before I came out. Keeping everything secret, the fear of discovery. Then the process of going from that to being out in the world in a way I simply could never have dreamt of. And now being accepted as a woman wherever I go to the extent that few realise that I am trans, or indeed care.
    But to far too many no surgery means no transition. I am not sufficiently trans, not serious. And it is a view that hurts me every day.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with Sarah and attitudes like India’s are very dangerous. Transitioned trans-men and women have all the protection of the law, the rest of us who aren’t transitioning, who are gender-fluid or non-binary don’t. My response is to say there is no way of proving whether someone using a men’s or ladies loo is female or male if they don not want to reveal themselves so we should make sure that this campaign to make trans-people figures of hate gets quashed and that all trans-people stand together.

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