Trans Rights Are Human Rights

Some people object to saying that “trans rights are human rights,” the idea being that some group of people, namely those who are trans, shouldn’t have any “extra rights” that the rest of the society does not have; basically, nobody should have more rights than others. The problem with such attitude is that currently trans people are being discriminated. The status quo is that they have fewer rights than the rest of the society. Trans people aren’t asking for any extra privileges, they want the same rights that are already there for cis people. They demand things that cis people take for granted, things that are considered universal human rights yet somehow still remain inaccessible for those people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

In theory, all human rights apply to trans people just like they apply to everybody else. In practice, various bigoted laws and social prejudices make it impossible for a trans person to freely exercise said rights. Consider how a blind person might have a theoretical right to vote in elections, but in practice they won’t be able to exercise said right without extra laws, which ensure that it is possible to fill out a voting ballot without relying on sight. Thus without passing extra laws, a blind person cannot exercise a right they theoretically have. Trans people face a similar problem—extra laws are necessary in order to ensure that they can freely utilize the same rights that the rest of the society takes for granted.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly back in 1948, lists various human rights that are still at least partially inaccessible to trans people.

The right to be considered equal to the rest of the society.

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Trans people routinely face challenges to their basic humanity every day. Their very existence is being contested. How much rights they should be allowed to have is considered a topic for debate. When some group of people are seen as equal in dignity and rights, the rest of the society doesn’t argue about whether they should have the same rights that everybody else takes for granted.

The right to not be beaten up, harassed, raped, or killed.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Statistics indicate that trans people, especially trans women of color, are much more likely to be harassed, beaten up, raped, and even murdered.

The right to not be discriminated while looking for housing or employment.

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Trans people are routinely discriminated by landlords and potential employers. For example, one of Freethoughblogs bloggers is a trans woman who is forced to dress as male at work, because nobody will hire her as a woman. Cis people aren’t forced to present themselves as a gender they are uncomfortable with in order to find a job.

The right to healthcare.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

I personally have been refused access to healthcare, because several transpobic doctors felt like kicking me out of their offices. Here you can read the full story about that. I am a European Union citizen, The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that trans people have a right to obtain various medical procedures that would change their gender. Nonetheless, transphobic doctors and bureaucrats still figured out a loophole how to de facto deny me the surgery I requested.

Nobody will ever say that a person with appendicitis is demanding special privileges when they request an appendectomy. Yet somehow people imagine that trans people requesting gender reassignment surgeries are somehow asking for special privileges.

Trans people should be free to decide for themselves, which (if any) medical procedures they want. This includes no forced mandatory surgeries. Some trans people want a full package of all the possible medical interventions (hormone therapy, genital surgeries, chest surgery, possibly also plastic surgeries for their faces). Others want to have only some of these treatments. People should be able to change their legal gender without being forced to undergo some treatment they don’t necessarily want for themselves.

The right to make your own reproductive choices.

There are countries that demand trans people to get themselves sterilized before they are allowed to change their legal gender. It is true that many trans people do want various procedures that will make them infertile and choose not to have biological children, but this isn’t the case for everybody. A trans woman should be allowed to freeze her sperm and have biological children if she so chooses, and she should have a right to be registered as “mother” in her child’s birth certificate. A trans man should be allowed to give birth to a child and be legally seen as their father.

Of course, reproductive freedom means also the right to remain childfree by choice. Personally, I don’t want any biological children. I have tried to get myself sterilized, but transphobic surgeons have been kicking me out of their offices for the last two years.

The right to have a legal name that matches your gender identity.

This is something every cis person takes for granted. Yet this privilege is inaccessible for many trans people. Unfortunately, in many countries changing one’s legal name is time-consuming and costly. In some countries, where laws are written by transphobic politicians, changing one’s legal name is outright impossible. Andreas isn’t my legal name, it’s a German male name that I picked several years ago while living in Germany. This name derives from a Greek noun, which means “man” (i.e. male human being). I like this etymology.

My legal name is a female name. The country where I was born insists that legally female people are obliged to have female names. Local laws define female names as anything ending with letters “a” or “e.” My country would allow me to call myself “Andrea,” but not “Andreas.” In order to change my legal gender, I would have to obtain every imaginable surgery out there (and even then some bureaucrats might object that I am still the gender I was assigned at birth). Even if I took testosterone or got rid of my breasts, the state would still insist that I must be female (I have no plans of ever getting a phalloplasty).

Having to live with two different names, one that’s real for you, and the other one that’s real for your state, is problematic. Various inconveniences ensue, for example, I got forbidden from having a Facebook account due to their legal name policy.

The right to use your preferred pronouns.

This is one more thing cis people take for granted. If you are cis, nobody will ever use a pronoun you dislike. Yet for trans people it is an uphill struggle to obtain even this relatively minor sign of respect, which is simply basic human decency.

The right to have a passport/ID card/driver’s license with your preferred gender written in it.

People need identification documents in order to lead a normal life. Travel, access to social benefits, voting in elections all require some form of identification. Numerous trans people have been denied a right to vote, because they had to face prejudiced poll workers convinced that they were dealing with a man in women’s clothes (or vice versa) trying to commit voter fraud.

The right to use public restrooms.

Access to public toilets is something cis people take for granted. After all, people need to pee on a regular basis and sometimes they happen to be away from home. Hence public restrooms. Nobody questions cis people’s right to use said facilities. Simultaneously, the same right has been denied or at least contested for trans people.

In order to manipulate the discourse, people can intentionally skew their language while talking about rights. For example, “the right to marry another person” is general and applicable to everybody. For heterosexual people, this right is unquestioned. For homosexual people, this right is contested. A person who is in favor of gay marriage will argue that “the right to marry” is universal, and countries have a duty to pass extra legislation to ensure that also homosexual people can exercise said right. A homophobic person, on the other hand, will argue that the debate isn’t about “the right to marry” but about “the right to marry a same sex partner.” This way it becomes easier to argue that gay rights are “special” rights that are socially unnecessary or even unjust privileges that would harm straight people.

Trans rights are framed as separate from human rights in general, because this way it becomes easier to undermine their human dignity and equality. Once you say that the overall right is to “change one’s legal name,” it becomes harder to justify why the law should not permit changing one’s original name to a differently gendered name. Transphobes like to talk about “the right to change one’s original name to a differently gendered name,” because this way it is easier to frame it as an unjust extra privilege.

Indirect discrimination is when there’s a practice, policy or rule which applies to everyone in the same way, but it has a worse effect on some people than others. Contrast, for example, “marriage is between a man and a woman,” which is an example of indirect discrimination, versus “no gays allowed,” which is much less subtle. Nonetheless, the discrimination still exists. While a lesbian technically has a right to marry a man, she’s not going to use said right, thus marriage is denied to her.

Trans people face various subtler forms of discrimination simply as a result of living in a cisnormative (where cis people are considered as default) society. Cis people take for granted that their identity documents will reflect their gender, they expect access to appropriate gender-segregated spaces, they don’t even notice how everybody always refers to them with their preferred pronouns.

Instead of taking a privilege for granted, there is also another way how to look at rights. “A right to live as the gender assigned at birth” shouldn’t be regarded as the default. Nor should “the right to change one’s legal gender” be considered as an extra privilege. Instead it’s possible to talk about “the right to live as one’s preferred gender,” and this is a right that’s applicable to everybody. Both cis and trans people are interested in living as their preferred gender.

Transgender people might have some special needs (like being allowed to change their legal gender), but they aren’t asking for any extra rights that would differ from the same human rights everyone else already has. It’s disheartening that some people still fail to see something so obvious. For those who haven’t figured it out already, I wrote this blog post because of what I read in this comment thread. These kinds of discussions shouldn’t be happening at all. It should be obvious that trans people ought to have basic human rights.


  1. anat says

    Hi Andreas!

    If you are cis, nobody will ever use a pronoun you dislike.

    Psst! They sometimes do, usually in order to police gender expression of cis people who stray out of the neat gender boxes. But then the misgendering behavior is more often recognized as the bullying that it is. (And then there are honest mistakes of one’s gender, more common wrt kids, but I was last mistaken for a guy at 18.)

  2. says

    anat @#1

    You are correct, my phrasing was very inaccurate. It should have been more like, “If you are cis, nobody will consistently insist upon using a pronoun you dislike and get away with it.”

  3. says

    The thing about rights is that they are not a zero-sum game. The more rights I have, the more rights you have, too. We all are better off.
    What drives me crazy about ‘conservatives’ is they proffer a naive view of rights: If you get the right not to have your face spitten in, somehow that reduces my rights! No, actually, we both now have the right not to have our faces spitten in. There is nobody going around saying “in order to budget for LGBTQ rights, we need to reduce the rights of white people to wear ugly golf pants; that should just about even up the equation.”

  4. says

    Marcus @#3

    There is nobody going around saying “in order to budget for LGBTQ rights, we need to reduce the rights of white people to wear ugly golf pants; that should just about even up the equation.”

    Homophobes and transphobes demand various “rights” such as:
    1) Not needing to look at gay couples holding hands in public or trans people openly leading their lives while looking in specific ways;
    2) Being free to abuse and harass LGBTQIA+ people.
    3) Being free to decide which pronouns to use when referring to everybody else.
    And so on.

    When I first came out as agender, I started with “milder” things like dressing as a man. Nobody cared about my fashion choices, nobody abused or criticized me for that.

    Shit started happening when I went to a doctor and demanded a surgery. Or when I stated that I prefer being referred to with pronouns “they” or “he.”

    Transphobes were willing to ignore my “eccentric” behavior only as long as they could ignore me. The moment I demanded them to do specific things for me (performing a surgery on me, using my chosen pronouns), all hell went loose. People who disapprove of my behavior feel like I’m coercing them into “enabling” my chosen lifestyle. Thus they feel like I’m limiting their rights. As if somebody should have a “right” to be an asshole towards others.

    Alternatively, consider, for example, “the right to refuse service on religious grounds.” Like when some shop doesn’t want to serve homosexual or trans customers. I really do want to take away this so called “right.”

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