#usi12: USI’s Most Difficult Challenge?

First-time contributor Matthew Mulligan shines light on what should be a vitally important issue for USI.

USI President Gary Redmond speaks at #usi12. Image via University Times.

I am not someone who was unfortunate enough to be born into a body in which I felt I didn’t belong. I am a homosexual male and that is my physical identity, it matches up to the identity I have of myself in my head. But for a lot of people, their physical identity isn’t correct. Their physical gender isn’t what it should be, and they take action to become happier in themselves and comfortable in themselves by changing this body.

I say this because the current USI Congress is extremely happy that they have mandated a full push for LGBT rights; civil marriage, adoption rights, full equal recognition in the eyes of the law. However as a member of the LGBT community, while I welcome these promises, I cannot help but feel it is not enough for possibly the most underrepresented and most deserving of equality – those who identify as transgender.

On the first day that the motion was proposed, it was left unattended to. The rationale for this was that there was no time to debate it. I would assume that the motion on LGBT rights regarding same sex marriage and adoption had the support needed to put it through before it was even spoken about at the podium. The Union is developed enough and made up of enough socially aware and progressive people that such a long time was not necessary. It was said that that motion passed unanimously, and that all speakers spoke vehemently and passionately about the motion. Personally I would be of the opinion that the speeches were all progressive and well-meaning and full of love regarding people in the LGBT community, but may have been over-kill. The issue is not one of grey spaces anymore but of black and white differences, and it is on the side of progression that not only does USI fall but the main political parties as well. When the motion was carried, delegates declared it a great victory for equality, at the expense of the gender recognition equality motion being heard and discussed.

At a time when Fianna Fáil, Labour and Fine Gael have all expressed the same determination for same sex marriage to become legislation as USI has, it’d seem that the Union has an easier job than before in achieving the promises made. A cynic would say that regardless of USI, these rights will be achieved as declared by the main political parties. However another motion to be discussed at Congress would put USI ahead of the government in many steps, a motion for gender recognition legislation. Discrimination an ignorance regarding Trans people exists at the highest offices in our country. It is unfortunate that the government and governments previous have continued to legislatively discriminate against these people. Across the border in Northern Ireland no such discrimination exists with the legalities of changing one’s gender. In Sweden, the penalty for changing one’s gender legally is sterilization. That is the choice that these people have to go through because of something which happened that was beyond their control. It’s quite despicable and tragic.

But the ignorance does not stop there. As a member of Maynooth LGBTQ Society (albeit a first year), I am conscious of the plight of Trans people in our society. I know Trans people and I’ve known some of them their whole lives, in whatever form of body they had. I know they’ve always been who I’ve known them to be. But unfortunately, the LGBT community outside Maynooth at large isn’t as happy and rosy in the garden as outsiders may like to think. Yes heterosexuals may look at us and the less tact might say “but look, you have your own community, live in harmony!” however it doesn’t work like that.

One of the biggest lies of liberal democracy and progressive thinking is that if someone is in a minority, their struggle for respect will mean they treat others who are discriminated against with respect. I’m sorry to say that this is simply not true, not least in my experience. I am sure it’s not true for many people. Minorities can discriminate against other minorities. And this includes discrimination in the LGBT community, where I personally feel that the T has been somewhat forgotten, or if not forgotten than at least misunderstood, with no real attempt at understanding being made.

There are a variety of innocent reasons for this. Having gender identity issues is something which people may find it hard to empathize with, to really get inside the head of this person and feel their discomfort and unhappiness with their body. It isn’t something that can be understood with a few trivial anecdotes about “sure they caught me with John and now we have the bants about it”. Not to trivialize homosexuality and bisexuality, but it’s a lot easier for people to process the idea of loving someone who happens to be the same gender than it is for people to process the idea of being one gender, but in the body of the other gender. Even I’m struggling to do that idea justice, I think proving my point to myself. This is nobody’s fault. Some things in life are more difficult to understand than others, but the point is we keep trying until we understand.

Simply a lack of not knowing any people with gender identity problems means some people are able to remain ignorant of the situation and pretend it doesn’t exist. Ignorance is bliss of course, and the longer people remain ignorant of these issues than the bigger the possibility that later in life, when they see problems or situations regarding Trans people coming to the fore, they will react badly. Because they don’t know that there are issues. They’ll do things like confuse transvestites and transgendered people and not know that they’re making mistakes. If you are not educated early on things like this than when it comes to a USI motion regarding not just acceptance but equality and validation of trans people then there will be a bigger resistance – simply because it does not affect them. I personally saw this with the recent Paddy Power ad which made fun of transgendered people by calling transvestites transgendered and asking viewers to spot, in the crude language of someone on facebook, “the tranny”. When questioned about the nature of this ad a number of my friends couldn’t see the harm – the deeper I delved I saw they didn’t know the terminology, the actual status of legal recognition for trans people or sadly, cruelly, unfortunately, the difference between words for drag and words for gender identity difficulties.

I truly believe that USI’s biggest challenge and possibly longest lasting campaign will be the fight for the government to introduce the legislation necessary to correct the damage that they are doing to the trans community. In the meantime, USI need to seriously undertake a cultural overhaul of education, acceptance and tolerance and instil it into its members. There is a culture war going on, and the silent victims are our trans friends who have been rejected by their government. Let’s hope that their Union can bring their voices into the fold.

-Matthew Mulligan

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2 thoughts on “#usi12: USI’s Most Difficult Challenge?

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