A pressing question for our time:

Are we accepting of trans identities?

Make no mistake, this is a delicate, complex and controversial issue, and the race towards finding and establishing a level playing field which is fair to all and can ultimately be agreed by all, is being run primarily in the USA. Doctors, lawyers and legislators are lining up and taking sides, especially in regard to transgender athletes participating in sporting events.

The state of Mississippi this year passed a bill banning transgender women and girls from competing in youth and collegiate athletics. Similar bills are expected in at least twenty other states after President Biden signed an executive order in January extending protections against discrimination to gender identity and sexual orientation. Inevitably the journey from bill to law will be far more difficult and contentious in some states than in others.

In the UK too, the picture is confusing and that may be due partly to, some politicians included, waiting to see how the situation develops overseas, whilst other members of the Great British public choose not to engage with or be drawn into confronting the issue. Admittedly the scene is complicated, with even the correct terminology beyond the grasp of many and frightening off others. What’s the difference between transgender and transsexual? And what precisely does non-binary mean?

The answers are out there to be discovered, with the word “transgender” generally an umbrella term to describe those who have a gender different from the sex assigned at birth: male, female or even intersex. But the scenario can be further clouded when learning that transgender can mean different things to different people and that there are other terms transgender individuals use to describe their own gender. Those who are transgender might identify as a man, a woman, a combination of both, or something else altogether.

The situation is potentially a political and personal minefield, which understandably many, particularly those who have no transgender friends or acquaintances, have no intention of stepping into. Many simply do not wish to cause offence so avoid the issue completely. Gradually though, as more celebrities and those in the public eye identify as transgender, the situation will become clearer, assisted no doubt by our famous “sense of fair play”. But for now, for many of us it will remain a difficult area, especially, as our survey reveals, in the world of sport.

What our surveys show

Our gender identity is central to our sense of self, affecting every area of our lives, including, of course, our mental wellbeing. But many of the public remain confused and undecided on the issue of transgender identity, which is reflected in the higher number of “Don’t know” replies to our first question, 25%. We asked whether or not we agree that an individual who changes gender from that biologically at birth is subsequently the gender they have chosen. A higher number, 43%, said they do accept such a change while 32% said they do not accept it.

However, in regard to participation in sport, the picture is far different. Only 19% agreed that a transgender woman, who was born biologically male but now identifies as a woman, should be allowed to compete in women’s sport, while 57% said they should not and a still considerable 24% said they don’t know. There was far less opposition to transgender women being allowed to compete for women-only intellectual prizes, with 31% saying they should be allowed to take part and 43% against the idea. This time 26% answered “don’t know”.

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