OPINION Like most people I like to go out and celebrate my birthday to ignore the inevitable fact that I am getting older and that my body is slowly deteriorating. For most people this morbid celebration doesn’t really pose many challenges. You just get dressed into something nice, grab your friends and go out, right? Well, as long as you’re not trans..
Last Saturday evening, a trans woman was kicked out of a pub named Hverfisbarinn in Reykjavík. The reason? For simply being trans, said Sæborg Ninja, the trans woman in question.
Sæborg was out celebrating her sister’s birthday and they innocently made their way to the pub to celebrate, unsuspicious of that events that were about to unfold. The group arrived quite early but about an hour after they arrived, they were notified by the staff that their outfits weren’t appropriate nor in line with the dress code of the place. They were allowed to stay for a while longer, until they were eventually kicked out.
“… there have been several public cases of trans people being discriminated against or even physically assaulted over the past decade.”
When the group asked what exactly it was about their clothing that wasn’t up to standards, they didn’t have an awful lot of answers nor was the dress-code of the place written down anywhere nor introduced to them as they entered the pub. According to one of the people in the group, the doorman said that he simply couldn’t “allow a dude in an old lady fur coat into the pub” and had previously made a suggestion that Sæborg should dress like the male patrons of the pub.
If a dress-code wasn’t already a fascinating display of snobbiness, classism and arrogance with no actual universal standard or legal footing, it certainly is even more classy once it gets topped with oppressive gender expectations and transphobia. If there was ever an award for a mood-killer while celebrating your birthday, I’d say this one was a pretty strong contender.
Not quite the Queer Paradise
Sadly what this case illustrates is that Iceland isn’t the queer paradise it is often claimed to be. In fact, there have been several public cases of trans people being discriminated against or even physically assaulted over the past decade. In 2007 a trans woman was almost strangled to death after a potential romantic partner found out that she was a trans woman, as noted in the annual report of 2008 of the National Queer Organisation (Samtökin ‘78) in Iceland. In 2012, a trans man was physically assaulted at a club for using the men’s bathroom, forcing him to escape into a taxi from the place.
In 2013, a trans man was found dead in a public park after being denied access to a women’s shelter on the basis of his appearance being too masculine, and was then denied access to similar services for men because his ID said female on it. Earlier this year, a trans man who sought asylum, was denied ID that reflected his gender identity, despite the fact that he was granted asylum on the basis of being trans. Just last month, a trans woman was physically assaulted in downtown Reykjavík for her appearance.
As noted in an article written by Eyrún Eyþórsdóttir in Fréttablaðið, hate crimes are on the rise, and in particular against trans people. In light of the recent memo leaked from the Trump administration where they intend to legally erase trans and intersex people it is more apparent than ever that anti-trans bigotry is on the rise.
Transphobia doesn’t exist in a vacuum
This particular incident, as “innocent” as some people might perceive it, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is born from the rise of prejudice and transphobia all across the world, and trans people are suffering the consequences. Hate speech and public discourse that demonises trans people trickles down and causes bigots and ill-informed people to become invigorated in their hatred towards trans people which leads to direct transphobic action.
“In 2007 a trans woman was almost strangled to death. In 2012, a trans man was physically assaulted at a club for using the men’s bathroom. In 2013, a trans man was found dead in a public park. Last month, a trans woman was physically assaulted.”
There needs to be a clear message that bigotry and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated. Kicking a trans woman out of your pub because of her expression is a clear violation of law, and shouldn’t even be a thought in anyone’s mind. If this pub wants to retain any respectability, it needs to make some serious changes to their staff and policy. Getting some staff training from Samtökin ‘78 would be an excellent start.
In the bigger picture, prejudice and hate speech can easily be combated and prevented, and it is more vital now than ever that we make sure this is being addressed within every structure of our society. Not only must the government and those in power support legal equality of trans people, but also social recognition and acceptance. We need to make sure that hate speech and misinformation isn’t endorsed by the media or by public platforms. We need to make sure there are consequences to inciting hatred, discrimination and violence against minorities before it leads to something much more serious.
If we want to live up to our image as a safe place for trans people and queer people in general, we really have to step it up. Otherwise our commitment to equality is little but lip-service.
Main photo: Sæborg Ninja.