The Right to Be Transgender

Words by Oliver Hales

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Why is there still so much hatred and vitriol surrounding transgender people? I really don’t see how anyone could deny this being the case. It usually ranges from a general discomfort with the concept, to a full-blown disgust of them as people. The arguments you hear from opponents usually come from two camps. The first is that being transgender is not morally right — that it’s a perverted and devious affront to nature that lowers the standards of society. The second is that being transgender is biologically unsound — that science doesn’t back it up, making the entire concept invalid. The latter has become especially prevalent recently, with some arguing that being transgender is a mental illness, and that to normalise it is dangerous and irresponsible. Together, these arguments are used to justify why transgender people and identities should not be willingly accepted by society. However, the fact of the matter is that these arguments are largely irrelevant. When it comes to transgender people and their rights, the fundamental question is that of personal liberty. If a person wants to change their gender in our society, then they should have that right. It is in nobody else’s interests to say otherwise.

People have spent so much time getting bogged down in the underlying science of this issue that they have lost sight of the bigger picture. I know that it is natural for people to want science on their side (I certainly would), but the problem is that everything is still very murky. We simply still don’t know why a minuscule proportion of the population feels dissatisfied in the body they were born with. Yes, we know that gender dysphoria exists, but we don’t know why. This stuff has been studied for decades, but we still know relatively little. It is a testament to not only the tangled relationship between biology and psychology, but to the remarkable complexity of the human brain more than anything.

What we do know, however, is that these people undeniably exist. Pair that with the fact that most of society does not understand them and it is little wonder why transgender people want their voices to be heard so badly. I do not know what it is like to be transgender, but I can only imagine how confusing, and how painful, carrying that weight could be. If a person changing or transitioning their gender truly makes them feel “fixed”, then why would you want to contest that? And yet, these people and experiences are so often reduced to mere expressions of “political correctness has gone mad!” What is especially aggravating is when people imply that being transgender is a choice. Why someone would ever choose to open themselves up to a life of ridicule and scorn is far beyond me. It is a similar argument that is used against homosexuality: that being gay was a choice, thus reducing it as an inherent identity. The point here is that even if being gay or being transgender was a choice (which heads up, it isn’t), it really does not make a difference. People should have the right to live their life however they wish. If it is not affecting anyone else, then why should we care?

With that being said, societal change in this area is not going to be smooth unless there is an understanding on all sides. To be frank, I can understand why so many people are puzzled and apprehensive about this entire concept. We need to remember that this topic has only just entered the mainstream, and that this is still very new territory for the vast majority of society. I had not even heard the term “transgender” until a few years ago. It is entirely normal for people to be perplexed, which is why patience is needed. Transgender activists need to remember this, because they will not get anywhere if they attack everyone else for not being as tuned into the issue as they are. You do not change minds by doing that — you make enemies. People are inevitably going to make mistakes. They are going to get pronouns wrong and ask rude questions. Discrimination should obviously be denounced, but if there is no malice intended, people should be educated instead of chastised. The movement does not need to be watered down, but it does need to be digestible. Further, there are smaller issues that need to be dealt with: Should children be allowed to transition? Does refusing to call someone by their pronoun come under free speech? Should the government pay for sex-reassignment surgery? These are thorny questions that will inevitably need to be solved in the future.

However, all of this does not take away from the overarching right to be transgender. This right is not rooted in morality or science, but in the tenets of liberty. Just with every civil rights movement that has come before it, society will evolve to recognise this, slow as it may take. History will remember all of it, including those that stood in the way. There is nothing righteous about being against transgender people. Intentionally calling a transgender person by the wrong pronoun or by their birth name is not heroic, it is rude. If people want to pursue happiness and they are not hurting anyone else, then why would you ever oppose that?

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Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Nicholas Birchall, Felix Eldridge, Taylor Fernandez and Larisa Forgac. Email us at

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