By Graham Henry
Amid festivities of International Women’s Day, and LGBT History Month that preceded it, Britain has been bathed in self-reflection and self-congratulation on how far we’ve come on equal rights.
With all the usual qualifications, all that have been thinking deeply about these issues do seem to agree women and gay people are closer to equality than ever – yet may have hit glass ceilings and buffers in the road.
Consider, however, the plight of transgender people – whose lot appears to be moving towards improvement at a tortoise pace, rather than a hare’s. And they’re not getting much of a look-in when it comes to outrage about the pace of change.
A prime example of the lag came in the form of BBC’s Pointless programme, which featured Stephanie alongside her elderly friend Pearl.
And if you ever wanted to see the extent of the casual transphobia on display, Twitter’s not a bad window into that murky world.
“Woah! ‘stephanie’ on #pointless is taking womens day a bit far”
“Just heard him speak definatly [sic] a man”
“Anyone watching #pointless… ‘Stephanie’ is a bloke, right?”
“Strange how Stephanie knew the footie answer #pointless”
“That ‘woman’ Stephanie on Pointless is definitely a man dunno who he/shes’s tryna kid”
And a litany of far meaner jokes and comments about whether she should’ve really been called Steven.
All of this prompted the co-host of the show, Richard Osman, to rather admirably point out anyone making unpleasant comments could “stop watching the show altogether” and urged a vocal minority to “grow up and let people live life”.
The main source of annoyance appeared to be that Stephanie had dared to appear on the show at all.
If someone looks and sounds different, do they deserve a place on a TV quiz show? A vocal minority seems to suggest so.
It should also be pointed out that at no point did the BBC or Stephanie mention anything about her gender – so we can assume the horrible comments were based entirely on her looks.
It remains the case that if a transgender person even appears on television, or indeed in public, it represents a “brave” thing to do. The law says we are equal, but the people say we are not.
The struggle for equality of women and gay people has made vast strides due to strong and organised campaigns to achieve it, though this week’s campaign shows that many are still judged on the basis of both those facts.
The trans campaign, so often tagged on as it is to the end of LGBT, has to wade far further through treacle to achieve the same progress.
In the case of Stephanie, the BBC rightly made no reference to her gender at all, but as with so much discrimination, it’s the seedy, silent underbelly that threatens to stop us reaching a holy grail where someone’s differences don’t invite abuse upon them – or indeed don’t invite any comment at all.
The consequences of that can be hideous.
And it’s something the press are equally culpable of.
A coroner concluding on the suicide of transgender primary school teacher Lucy Meadows – who killed herself after tabloid stories about her return to school as a woman with a new name – said she had suffered a “character assassination” from elements of the press, which amounted to “ill-informed bigotry”, which he at least partly attributed for her death.
To a lesser extent, Piers Morgan’s careless use of words interviewing a transgender activist – even tweeting questions asking how you’d feel if you were dating a woman “formerly a man” – fuels the fire of those believing it’s a difference worth pointing out, isolating and putting up in lights for all to see.
If it’s possible to rank, transgender people suffer perhaps the greatest hurdles of all in the great fight for acceptance.
While the fights for rights of gay people and women are being fought in the newspaper columns, on our television screens and in the Houses of Parliament, with the baton taken up by politicians and celebrities alike, the demonising of transgender people continues in private among sniggering smartphone users and ignorant fools. Unchallenged, and largely unfashionable.
To emphasise, Stephanie didn’t ever say she was trans.
She also didn’t win Pointless. In fact, her run with Pearl was pretty success-free.
But she did win a fair few fans along the way – judging by the swell of goodwill responding to Osman’s slapdown – and that’s a decent enough win for International Women’s Day.