COMMENT:

The missing voices in your "trans debate" are trans people. Let's be clear right up front. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are neither, or both. None of this should be up for debate.

Yet for the past few months, commentators have been creeping out of the woodwork to "critically analyse" trans people, argue they are not real, and paint them as caricatures.

The missing voice has been trans people themselves. And who could blame them? Why would you want to enter into a so-called "debate" about whether or not you should be able to live as yourself? Do you even have time when you are just trying to survive in a world that doesn't accept you?

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Everyone has been talking about trans people but we have not created a safe environment for trans people to speak without fear, judgment and stigma. So we asked 20 trans and gender diverse people for their perspectives. What cisgender folk (people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth) need to do is listen.

"Every day is difficult coming out as trans. There are so many anxieties and fears. Using bathrooms, going swimming, bumping into old faces, not passing, accessing resources to begin transitioning, finding support, the cost of appointments and assessments, the cost of essential and life-saving surgeries, putting trust in people, changing and updating documents, being constantly uncomfortable with chest binding, being alone, difficulties and safety around trying to have intimate relationships."

"Some members of my family have threatened to cut me out of their lives and I delayed coming out because I was scared of being rejected by my family and forced to be homeless."

"No one will hire me because I'm obviously trans. I get harassed at university by students, and on the streets by both kids and adults. It makes me never want to leave my house."

"At school I was already fighting a fight inside me that no one could understand."

"I wish palagi genders, sexualities and individuality were not the default setting in our society. There is such a lack of positive role models and loving representations or collective learning about our gender diverse ancestors of Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa."

"I am a white trans masculine individual, and consider myself one of the most privileged members of the trans community. Yet even I am beaten up, called names, followed and shouted out of bathrooms. At my old job I was subject to what often felt like an endless string of micro-aggressions from co-workers. Reading so many hateful comments and articles about trans people every day leaves me - a normally rather confident trans person - feeling unwanted, disgusting, and useless. Something needs to change."

We asked people how they wished things were different for trans people living in Aotearoa. Some talked about their desire for more accessible healthcare, support services and better job opportunities. But many had simple asks.

"I wish we weren't gossiped about as soon as we leave the room."

"I just want to live as everyone else in environments where we are safe to exist in and contribute. I wish we were judged and treasured by our character and personality, not our gender and sexuality."

"I wish people would stop debating our right to live free of harassment. No trans person wants to have this fight. I just want people to be kind."

"I wish the positive stories were shared and celebrated too. The absolute joy of growing into your own skin and seeing who you are reflected back in the mirror. How much work trans people and groups do, supporting each other and making really valuable contributions within our wider families and communities. And the difference it makes when our schoolmates, teachers, work colleagues, employers, women's refuges, whānau and friends stand beside us."

"I wish we could be safe, respected, and understood."

Trans people are not hypothetical concepts. They are extraordinarily diverse and come from every type of community and represent every race. They pursue a wide range of professions, participate in a variety of religious and cultural traditions, and play important roles in families including as parents. They are also the experts of their own lives. We need to trust them. The fact that we have to remind us all that trans people are real people shows the very problem with this "debate".

As two people we heard from said: "We're all humans. We bleed the same colour. We breathe the same air and live in the same world."

"Let's create a supportive society that accepts and values the diversity of all people."

This article was co-written by the ActionStation staff team with support from RainbowYOUTH, re.frame, Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP, OUTLine, Tīwhanawhana, National Council of Women of New Zealand, leaders of Gender Equal NZ and InsideOUT. Quotes have been lightly edited for readability and brevity.