Charlotte S. McCarroll MRCVS
Every 31st March since 2009 we have Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV).
This is a day to celebrate our existence and raise awareness of the discrimination and hostility we still face. There are still groups that exist solely to vilify and hate trans people, and portray trans people as some kind of threat to women and children often in the name of “reasonable concerns” or “safeguarding issues” on bad faith arguments. I am sure that anyone from any kind of minority or oppressed group will recognise the tactics these groups use. It is important to recognise them for what they are though, and to recognise their bad faith arguments for what they are. Anyway, that is not what I am wanting to discuss today!
What I do want to talk about is trans visibility in the veterinary profession. But before that, a little trans history.
Trans people have been around as long as there has been human history and in many different cultures from Ancient Egypt and the galli priests of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome to hijras of the Indian subcontinent recorded 3,000 years ago. However, many people mistakenly believe trans people to be a recent phenomenon.
Recent Western trans history pretty much starts with Lili Elbe, the Danish painter seeking help at the Hirschfield Institute in 30s Berlin and the twentieth century media’s obsession with salacious gossip. In fact, being trans was so far from most people’s awareness that the concept of “legal sex” didn’t exist in most countries’ law until it was tested by the Corbett v. Corbett marriage annulment in 1970 where it was claimed the couple could not have been married and introduced the concept of “legal sex”. Positive steps began to follow shortly after with Sweden allowing people to change their “legal sex” from 1972. However, the UK did not follow until 2004. That really wasn’t long ago. I was in my second year of vet school when the Gender Recognition Act came into UK law.
The UK had remained quite hostile to the whole LGBTQ+ community. From 1988 until 2003 the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities was prohibited by law, Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. This was specifically targeted at schools during the time many of us would have been pupils. My own school career began in September 1989 finishing in June 2003, pretty much the entire duration of Section 28. Far be it for schools to help support children helping to understand themselves! It was brought in as a fear that gay people were a danger to children and would “convert them” to ways of homosexuality. A familiar narrative heard today about trans people and spread by people with similar attitudes to those of the 1980s. In some respects, the narrative has become more positive, certainly for some of the LGBTQ+ community, but we are not there yet for all as shown by the recent backlash against proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and hostile stunts at the 2018 London Pride parade.
One positive to come from the struggles of trans people for fair and equal recognition is an increased public awareness. In the main, most people are of the “live and let live” mentality although they can waver when faced with the bad faith arguments of the anti-trans lobby all too commonly given a prominent platform in the UK media while trans voices are often glossed over.
But what of trans visibility within the veterinary profession? Where do we sit? The Government Equalities Office “tentatively” estimate that there are between 200,000 and 500,000 trans people in the UK. With a population of 66.7 million that puts the proportion of trans people at around 0.3-0.8%. The UK has about 20,000 vets and 12,500 vet nurses so that would mean statistically there are 60-160 trans vets and 38-100 trans vet nurses practising out there today. Harder data has 4,910 (as of 2018) trans people get a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) since 2004 which running the same calculations means 1.4 vets has a GRC – I guess that’s me then. However, the process of getting a GRC is quite burdensome, with large quantities of documents being required to prove at least 2 years of living in your acquired gender and really quite intrusive medical certificates and letters being provided to a panel of strangers to give you another piece of paper. I can tell you now, it isn’t that piece of paper that makes me trans.
In writing this blog post I ran a Google search of “Transgender veterinarian” and got two-and-a-bit hits. I am the UK bit via a BVA blog and the BVLGBT+ page. The other two are in the US and Australia. In other words, trans people are not publicly visible at all in the veterinary profession. The situation is very similar with veterinary nurses. I would say, though, as trans people do we have a duty to be visible? We are in our jobs to be vets and nurses. We are out there competently seeing and treating our patients, running the diagnostic tests sent to the labs, conducting the research into new treatments and training the next generation of vets. The numbers say there are plenty of us out there quietly getting on. We are your colleagues. We count. We matter. Look after us and stand up for us.