AL, who is trans, non-binary and genderqueer, has been assaulted twice on public transport in the last 18 months – but they didn’t report either incident to the police.
“The first time, I was on a bus in east London,” they say. “It was quite crowded, and the woman who was sitting by one of the last two free seats had a bunch of flowers on it. When I asked her to move the flowers aside, she got very aggressive; she yelled at me that I was a disgusting pervert and a f****t, and when I tried to sit at the edge of the seat without moving her flowers she started hitting me on the shoulder.”
When AL asked her to “back off” she did, but continued loudly insulting them – until a woman a few rows behind “stood up loudly and put her in her place”.
I’m incredibly grateful to the woman who stood up for me,” AL says. “In all fairness to everyone else on the bus, they cheered loudly after she told off my aggressor.
“But she was the only one to take initiative.”
Trans hate crime reports quadrupled over the last six years
AL’s experience is sadly all-too common within trans and queer communities in the UK.
Reports of homophobic hate crimes have risen by 210 per cent over the last six years, according to VICE World News, while reports of transphobic hate crimes rose by 332 per cent in the same period.
In the UK, the law recognises five different types of hate crime on the basis of: race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or trans identity. Any crime can be prosecuted as a hate crime, the Crown Prosecution Service says, if the offender either demonstrates or has been motivated by hostility based on one of those five types.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, there were 2,588 reports of trans hate crimes in Britain – seven reports every day.
But those are just the incidents that were reported. AL didn’t report the abuse they experienced on the bus to the police: “The police are part of the problem, not the solution,” they say. “I can’t think of a situation in which I’d call the cops on anyone.”
The second time they were assaulted was also in east London, when they were leaving an underground station.
“A young woman who was sitting by the exit seemed upset at seeing me en femme, and tried to follow me asking loudly why I was dressed that way,” AL says. “When I told her that I wasn’t interested in having that conversation and left, she kept yelling and throwing things at my back.”
They add: “I’d been verbally assaulted and sexually harassed by men before, but I hadn’t had my physical boundaries violated before, and it was particularly devastating that it came from women.
“It made me feel that there’s no one you can feel entirely safe around.”
Research into trans hate crimes by LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop last year found that, like AL, just one in seven trans people who experience a transphobic attack – be it physical, verbal, sexual or online – report it to the police.
Seventy per cent said this was because they felt that the police could not help them. A third said they expected the police to be transphobic, while another third said they experienced too many transphobic incidents to be able to report them all.
‘The whole experience was very stressful’
Statistics paint a grim picture of life for trans people in the UK.
A report by trans-led organisation TransActual this month, “Trans lives survey 2021: Enduring the UK’s hostile environment“, found that 67 per cent of trans women, 63 per cent of non-binary people and 60 per cent of trans men have experienced transphobia on public transport. This figure rises to 75 per cent of Black trans people and trans people of colour (BPOC), and 70 per cent of disabled trans people.
Seven per cent of BPOC experience transphobia “every time” they take public transport, compared with one per cent of white trans people.
Similarly high numbers of trans people have been subjected to transphobic street harassment from strangers: 85 per cent of trans women, 73 per cent of non-binary people and 71 per cent of trans men.
Another non-binary person, John, told PinkNews that they didn’t report their experience of transphobic abuse on public transport to the police.
“I sometimes go out wearing a wig and light make up, but this one particular time on a train, I was going to Manchester,” John says. “This guy was just staring at me, and made me feel really uncomfortable and anxious so I moved seats, and he followed me.”
That in and of itself was “really odd and creepy”, John says, so they told him that he was making them feel uncomfortable and asked him to stop looking at them.
The man asked John why they were wearing a wig, and they replied that they didn’t need to explain that to him. The man laughed, and said: “You one of them, chicks with a dick?”
This made John “upset, shaking and anxious”, they say. “I said to him I was born with an extra X female chromosome and the way I feel and look has nothing to do with you and mind your own business please.”
But then “he got aggressive and said the most disgusting things ever… He was in my face, I felt so threatened and not sure what to do”.
A woman came to John’s rescue, telling the man to “mind his own bees wax” and to “sort your own life out before messing with someone else’s”. John reported the incident to the ticket man on the train, who asked if they wanted the transport police to be called.
“I said don’t worry about it,” John recalls. “I felt I was wasting their time, felt very anxious about the whole experience.
“It was so stressful.”