As a nonbinary person “I watched in horror” during Parliament’s nonbinary legal recognition debate

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Section 28 of the Local Government Act was implemented on May 24th, 1988. It prohibited local authorities from promoting “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” with one exception. Local authorities could still talk about gay people as long as they were doing so to limit the spread of disease. Homosexuality was dirty and highly contagious, it had to be hidden from young children in case we caught it and furthered the spread.

On May 24th 1988 I was not yet 10 years old. Section 28 wouldn’t be repealed until 2003 – several years after I graduated from University.

The untold damage to the psyche of those of us in the Section 28 Generation has yet to be genuinely explored; but it might explain why many of us in the 35-50 age bracket who now understand ourselves to be nonbinary watched in horror as the parliamentary “debate” on nonbinary recognition unfolded. A ghostly recreation of the ignorance, dismissiveness, whataboutery and speculative fiction that led so many of us to be left without any guidance or support in the 80s; let alone reassurances that there was nothing wrong with us. 

The debates and media frenzy that led to Section 28 made sure we were left in no doubt we were ‘wrong’uns’. On Monday I once again saw my lifemy simple life where I like to walk on the beach, curl up with a book, have a coffee at my local shop, stop to chat to pleasant looking dogs transfigured into some delusional, dangerous fantasy that must be controlled. Lest the egregious contagion of my gender identity is passed on to children simply through my desire to be legally recognised to exist. 

What does legal recognition for nonbinary people mean? It’s pretty simple: a way to allow me to put the right gender on my passport, my driving license.  To, if I chose to, apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate so that when I am gone and all that’s left of me is my skin and bones, my death certificate will reflect the gender in which I lived. 

While my existence is painted in this debate largely as a childish fantasy, somehow wrought through confusion and neurodiversity, I am not the looming threat in the minds of the majority of the participating MPs. The trans woman is. She’s a danger to your children, she’s deleting your women, she’s coming for your elite sports and your medals while taking your jobs in STEM, she lurks on every corner just waiting for the day “Self ID” is introduced so she can run gleefully cackling into a ladies loos to commit the most egregious act of having a wee in a locked cubicle. 

I don’t need to write about how the majority of the political and media establishment are wrong about trans women – I am not a trans woman and there are other writers far more qualified than I. But what is important for me to point out is that it’s not trans women to blame for the dreadful quality and tone of the debate on nonbinary recognition. It’s the appalling ignorance and – yes, I say it with my whole chest – bigotry of the majority of those who thought they had a contribution to make on the subject but instead only repeated the history we know all too well; ‘queers are dangerous and contagious.’

The discourse of contagion in the debate configures a type of disease that is spread epistemologically – a pandemic caused by knowledge. “Cases are growing exponentially” says Nick Fletcher MP as he worries about young people possibly turning nonbinary through some sort of gender osmosis. Miram Cates MP worries that it’s schools to blame: “Children are now being taught in schools that there are more than two genders and that they can change their gender”. I shudder at this – I can hear too clearly the echoing clipped tones of  Thatcher warning the Convervative Party Conference in 1987 that “schools are teaching children that they have an inalienable right to be gay.”

A photograph of Margaret Thatcher from 1982

After 35 minutes of assorted MPs continuing to scaremonger about trans women and social contagion, Kirsten Oswald attempted to get the conversation on the rails. Adding “nonbinary” to a drop down menu, she pointed out, “costs absolutely nothing”. She followed it up by pointing out to Nick Fletcher that she was, in fact, a woman, and very much not erased (despite Fletcher’s repeated interruptions while she was talking, an irony I suspect Fletcher will never grasp). “Who are we talking about?” she asked, before giving the first genuine summary of the issues faced by nonbinary people thus far.

Attempts by Anneliese Dodds to maintain momentum were derailed once more
by valiant defender of women, Nick Fletcher, who was also keen to interrupt her, too. We then took a trip up to the North, where everyone had a jolly good chat about how nice is it that the Church of Scotland will allow same sex marriages, before coming back South with a mini debate on Conversion Therapy, doubling back to single sex spaces with a loop towards puberty blockers, then Mornington Crescent.

The debate began at 4.30pm, and finished at 5.50pm with the comment “Resolved,that this House has considered e-petition 580220, relating to legal recognition of non-binary gender identities.” Nonbinary legal recognition was substantively discussed for about 13 minutes. The rest was the same white noise of trans lives, with no relief in sight. 

I’d rather my existence wasn’t up for a debate; but if it must be so, at least make it a reasonable and informed one. This was neither. This ‘debate’ demonstrated to me that it’s not people sending nasty tweets to each other on Twitter that has been preventing meaningful debate on trans and nonbinary inclusion. It’s the complete and utter political obsession with trans women. Instead of talking about how we – and we’re not all children, some of us are even in menopause – might navigate our legal existence we had to hear over and over again how dangerous trans women are. 

Em
Em is a bisexual nonbinary 40-something with ADHD and two half-working knees. They enjoy swimming in the sea, saying hello to dogs and Dungeons & Dragons. They do not enjoy having to endlessly justify their existence to people who think they don’t exist.

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