Dáithí Ó Sé is impatient to welcome a trans Rose of Tralee to the Kerry Dome stage. Commenting on the news that this year’s competition is open to trans women, his opinion was unequivocal.
I think it would be very positive to learn about that person’s life from the day they were born to the day they came on stage,” he said.
He’ll have to wait a while. Despite the announcement of the new rules six months ago, there is not a single Transrose in the line-up of 33 finalists. There are no women of color either. As a celebration of Ireland’s diversity, this year’s competition is a flop.
Perhaps the culture surrounding the festival just doesn’t feel welcoming enough for the Irish trans women who are newly proving themselves eligible. Perhaps they feel that there are more important boundaries to be crossed in their quest for wider cultural inclusion than being on stage in Tralee, reciting a poem or playing a tin whistle.
Despite its efforts to remain relevant, the Rose of Tralee Festival retains much of its 1950s soul with its stubbornly traditional displays of graceful, decent femininity. Revered around the world for its oddity value, it has evolved into a quirky folk event and is loved for it.
But it may not be the most consequential arena for promoting trans rights. Perhaps potential trans candidates might reasonably feel that there is more significant ground to gain when running for office in local politics or vying for high-profile roles in the media or in business. Or just that they go about their everyday lives as their authentic selves.
It is difficult to obtain reliable figures on what proportion of the population in Ireland identify as trans or non-binary. International the latest statistics cited in the science journal Nature suggest that up to 2 percent of the populations surveyed are gender biased.
The numbers are expected to be understated for the obvious reason that these identities are often difficult for people to openly embrace and yet continue to carry significant social stigma.
In Ireland, 2pc represents a sizable population – 100,000. That’s about half the number (4 per cent) in Ireland who identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. But how many openly transgender or non-binary people are there who figure prominently in Irish public life? Apart from a handful of trans rights activists who appear regularly in the media, I can’t think of a single one.
No mainstream politicians or business leaders or broadcasters or prominent academics going about their lives and careers who happen to be trans. I guess you would also be under quite a bit of pressure to find an openly transgender bank manager, teacher, or warden in every community.
Given how prominent the trans debate is in the media and how bitter the war is being waged over contested areas in that debate (sports, public toilets, prisons, education), it seems incongruous, at the very least, that the faces and personalities and everyday life of trans people remains more or less in the dark.
Instead, for now, the debate remains hopelessly, venomously stalled as it is, fixated on issues of threat or threat that better integration of trans people might pose. It’s mostly about quantifying the risks that trans people pose, as potential attackers who disguise themselves to infiltrate female-only spaces, or as scammers in sports.
However, recent research from the UK suggests that public opinion is rapidly moving towards greater acceptance of transgender people. Of 5,000 people polled on the issue, just 32 per cent disagreed that a trans man is a man and a trans woman is a woman – with the report’s authors noting that research has shown that most Britons take a nuanced, compassionate approach, rooted in society do what they can to make trans people feel accepted and comfortable.
In a recent Sunday independent/Ireland Think’s opinion poll, when asked if they believed “a transgender man is a man,” 48 percent said they either totally agreed or agreed, while 29 percent either totally disagreed or disagreed. A similar response came when participants were asked if they believed the statement that “a transgender woman is a woman”.
If we are ever to move beyond these darkest days of the culture wars, an essential part of the process will be increasing the visibility of trans people as part of mainstream culture. Announcing the Rose of Tralee is a well-intentioned but tiny step. We still have a long way to go.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/ordinary-faces-of-trans-community-obscured-as-inclusivity-fails-to-bloom-41925764.html Ordinary faces of the trans community are obscured as inclusivity does not flourish