THE GENDER TRUST BLOG: Hello Hello Harass

Believe it or not, I don’t actually like moaning about being trans. It’s just that there’s so much to moan about.

Transgender life is much like cisgender life: we face exactly the same problems as the rest of society (apart from that pesky SRS business), though it’s usually significantly magnified.

Let’s take your stereotypical ‘unconvincing’ trans woman. Generally, I don’t see merit in categorising trans women on their ability to ‘pass’. But for my purposes here it’s useful to recognise that some girls are more passable than others. Life, for Noticeable Trans Woman (NTW), is a series of hurdles much like anybody’s. Except she has to jump higher. Take going to the corner shop for instance: this may be a minor inconvenience for most, or even just a nice excuse to stretch one’s legs.

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But for NTW it may be a trial, requiring special planning and preparation if she’s to avoid being called ‘tranny’ by the yobs at the end of the street. And she’s not exactly safe inside the shop either. Although most people are happy to think ‘Oh: a man buying beans’ when they see a cis man buying beans, or ‘Oh: some woman buying toothpaste’ when they see some woman buying toothpaste, the trans-look rarely illicits such mundane responses. Unfortunately, a noticeable trans woman buying a pint of milk often induces onlookers to keep-on onlooking. Frequently this is performed with a stupid grin on their faces, whilst thinking ‘is that a man or a woman’ – sometimes out loud. So that’s the milk run.

And being trans can make a host of situations just that little bit shittier: from getting denied medical care in hospital, to simply turning up to work. Even popping home for Christmas can be a struggle.

So, sadly, we weren’t surprised when Mina (real name changed) contacted the Gender Trust to tell us about her experience with Norfolk Police. She’s describes herself as ‘totally passable’ – but that didn’t protect her from some distinctly unpleasant transphobia.

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An doctor from India, Mina has lived in the UK for many years – keeping an unblemished driving license. But on July 25 she inadvertently jumped the traffic in Great Yarmouth when distracted by her sat-nav system. The police sergeant who stopped her initially said she’d get three points on her driving license, which he’d checked was in order. But, as Mina told the Gender Trust, it wasn’t to be that simple: ‘When he mentioned that my insurance is in a male name, I realised my mistake. With the stress of new job, exams, and moving place it escaped to the back of my mind that my insurance is still in my past name’.

Though it didn’t take her more than three minutes to amend the name via a phone call the following morning, the damage was already done.

As a ‘completely transformed woman’ living in deep stealth, Mina believes that if she had said she was driving her husband`s car, the police would probably have released her: ‘One of his juniors hinted at that later (he wasn’t joking) but it was too late. The moment I told him the truth about me, I was aghast that his whole attitude towards me changed so dramatically. He stopped treating me like another human being’.

The officer arrested Mina in order to ‘prove’ her identity and, she insists, he treated her like a criminal from then on. At this point she broke down in complete anguish.

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Mina, who fears the effect dealing with the police could have on her career, pleaded with the officers to allow her to prove her identity. But they refused to take visit her flat for the relevant documents: ‘So determined was he to humiliate me, all my begging and protests fell on deaf ears. He also accused me of obtaining the driving license by fraudulent means… my car was seized, my phone and master card confiscated and I was taken to the police station to answer embarrassing gender questions, and get thoroughly frisked’.

Her mug shot was taken, and she was forced to give a DNA sample for the national database while her car was searched. Mina says that asking for a solicitor was a big mistake: ‘Not only was he not so trans friendly, I didn’t even get the feeling that he is trying to sort out things for me. Worse, he was keen to grab all the credit for the inevitably positive ending. He said I’d been evasive in answering questions when all I’d told the truth from the word go – that’s what landed me in trouble in the first place’.

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She told us how she was later handcuffed and taken to her flat in full view of her neighbours: ‘The constable wouldn’t even let me wee in peace in my own flat. I regretted asking “Officer, can I close the door please” after he made me cringe with his sarcastic, insensitive reply: “It’s OK doctor, I’m not gonna see your genitalia”’.

In the end she left without using the toilet, and was taken back to the police station and locked up again – by which point Mina claims her bladder was ‘bursting’.

Mina feels lucky that her documents had been returned to her a few days previously by the Gender Recognition Panel: ‘If not, I would probably have been locked up for eternity until I could prove my identity beyond all doubts’.

She was eventually released from custody without any charges being pressed, but Mina believes there’s only one moral which can be taken from her story: ‘Just don’t tell the police you’re transgender’.

Now if you came from the estate I was brought up on you’d probably know not to tell the police anything, but let’s face it, that’s no way to carry on. If you are unlucky enough to experience unfair treatment by the police you can contact the Independent Police Complaints Commission here.

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But remember, the police force is (slowly) changing, and as the National Trans Police Association shows, it’s not impossible that the next officer to pull you over might be themselves transitioning.

I’m just glad I don’t drive.

Paris Lees

(The views expressed within this blog are those of the author, and may not reflect those of the Gender Trust)

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Comments

  • stephanie  On January 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    well seeing this blog about the attitude of the police from gt yarmouth really does not surprise me had a simler and most distressing time with them in the past must be the culture of that station

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