The news today that MEP Nikki Sinclaire has come out as transgender (MtF) is likely to re-ignite the whole stealth debate among the trans community.
Nikki, who transitioned aged 23, has been out as a lesbian for years. As an MEP working for UKIP (a very right wing UK political party), this cannot have been easy. She’s had public run-ins with colleagues over the party’s stance on LGBT issues and been abusively treated by them for doing so. This piece from 2004 in The Telegraph explains why Nikki is a member of a political party known for its intolerance on so many issues. Read the piece carefully and it also states that, because Nikki is 6ft 4 inches tall, she has in the past been asked whether she is trans. Something she said that she was forced to deny.
Nikki’s newly-published autobiography called Never Give Up contains the revelation that she transitioned 20 years ago. As the book’s forward says, “She insists it is only one facet of her life… And though it tormented her childhood and teenage years, it is one that no longer dominates her or her future.”
I suspect that the part of Nikki’s story that will cause transgender people who are out and proud the most problems is her past and persistent denials that she was transgender. It is not easy to hear that “one of your own” feels so ashamed of being what you are that they have to hide it. But isn’t this where gays and lesbians were 10 to 20 years ago? Portia de Rossi, one of the most out women in the world, explained last week how difficult coming out was for her only 8 years ago.
Being gay no longer has the shock value for the media that it once did as more and more high profile people come out. As a result, gay rights has moved so far and so fast in the last 10 years that being gay and coming out today is a completely different experience from being gay and coming out in the 1980s, or even 1990s, say. There is a general level of understanding in Western society of what being gay does and doesn’t mean. As that understanding has permeated all arenas, people have realised that homosexuality is not something to be afraid of and tolerance levels have risen.
Coming out as transgender is not there yet. It is still seen as something to be afraid of; it’s still seen as “a bit weird”. So, to put Nikki Sinclaire’s story in context, when she transitioned 20 years ago being gay was still seen as “a bit weird” and being transgender just wasn’t talked about. Her decision to hide that part of herself was therefore taken in an era when coming out as trans would have seriously set back her career and the other things she wanted to achieve in life. Instead, she did the next best thing, which was to come out as a lesbian – a half truth, if you like, that allowed her to work for LGBT rights within her chosen political party.
I am glad that Nikki has chosen to come out; the more high profile people who do, the more transgender rights will advance. I also don’t criticise her for waiting to do so until the time was right for her and for society. Despite her desire for it not to dominate her future, she will, I fear, be labelled “that UKIP transgender MEP” by members of the public rather than “that MEP who fights for LGBT rights within UKIP” but, hopefully, by taking the actions she has taken, combined with those of other transgender people in the public eye, this will change. After all, nobody says “Elton John that gay singer” or “Ellen Degeneres that lesbian talk show host” anymore.
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