Aoife Martin is a trans woman and passionate trans rights activist. In January, 2017, she became the first person to transition globally within her workplace.
Since then she has given numerous talks and interviews about what it’s like being transgender in Ireland. She is passionate about educating people around transgender issues. In 2018 and 2019 she was listed as one of Outstanding’s Top 50 Future LGBT+ Leaders. She was also elected to the board of TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland).
On Saturday, May 23rd 2015 Ireland became the first country in the world to approve same sex marriage by popular vote with a result of 62% for and 38% against. It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a remarkable achievement and it made headlines around the world. This little country, once ruled by the Catholic Church and often notoriously conservative on social issues, had said a resounding ‘Yes!’ to love. It was one of my proudest days as an Irish citizen and I still get emotional when I think about it.
What’s less well known, and seemed to have somehow slipped in under the radar, is that in the same year, Ireland introduced the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). This allowed people over the age of 18 to self-declare their own gender identity. It also allowed for young people, aged between 16 and 17 to be legally recognised, albeit by a more onerous process.
In 2016 I began my own transition and would eventually become one of the beneficiaries of this new legislation. At the time I did not appreciate how lucky I was. I filled out the necessary form and sent it, along with the appropriate documentation, to the Client Identity Services (CIS – oh the irony!). A few days later my certificate arrived, declaring that I, Aoife Martin, was female and recognised as such by the State.
It’s a strange moment, that moment of validation. Yes, it’s only a piece of paper. It didn’t change who I was as a person – I knew who I was and I didn’t need a certificate to tell me that – but to be recognised and accepted for who I was by the organs of the state? That meant a lot. It also meant I was able to apply to have my birth certificate changed and, indeed, a week later my new birth cert arrived and it said ‘Aoife’ and ‘Female’. I might not have cried when I got my Gender Recognition Cert but I cried then: to see my name and gender affirmed on this most official of documents, was overwhelming.
Five years on from the GRA (I think it’s appropriate that the Irish for love is grá), the sky hasn’t fallen down, men aren’t using self-id to access women’s spaces, and trans people are just trying to get on with their lives along with everyone else.
The toxicity of the discourse around self-id in the UK has been both disheartening and distressing to witness. It has generated a lot of column inches, admittedly from an often transphobic media, and it has dominated many online discussions. There have been several attempts by the media in Ireland to generate a “discussion” around self-id and women’s spaces here – clickbait sells, folks! – but we’ve mostly managed to avoid falling into that rhetoric. We’ve been lucky, but we also need to be vigilant.
Crucially, and it’s difficult to overestimate just how important this is, Irish feminism is for the most part trans-inclusive. Feminists here do not see trans women as a danger. They see us as allies and recognise that equality means equality for all: for trans people, for sex workers, for people of colour, for immigrants, for everyone. Irish feminists fought long and hard for body autonomy and trans people fought alongside them. It might be an obvious parallel but it’s still worth pointing out that body autonomy is something the trans people have long sought, and continue to seek, for themselves.
As an out Irish trans woman I consider myself lucky to live in a country where I am, by and large, accepted for who I am and treated respectfully. I have a good job where I am accepted and supported by my colleagues. That’s not to say Ireland is perfect – far from it. Transphobia is still a problem here – especially if you’re not cis-passing. Indeed, I was speaking on a panel last week and a trans woman in the audience spoke movingly about how she’d been abused just for going out for a drink with her friend. And that is just not good enough. Trans people are over-represented in terms of unemployment, homelessness, suicidal ideation and so on. That is also not good enough.
Healthcare is also still a big issue here. The waiting lists are long and we have a psychiatric model of care that needs reform. We also, in the good old Irish tradition of sending our problems abroad, send our trans people to the UK and further afield for gender affirming surgery. I hope one day soon to take that journey myself but wouldn’t it be much nicer if I could have it here, in my own country, and not have to worry about travelling for aftercare?
It’s been interesting to see how much Ireland has changed socially in the last few decades. As other countries become more socially conservative we seem to be ploughing our own furrow and moving, however slowly, in the right direction. Long may we continue to do so.
Find Aoife on Twitter: @aoifemrtn
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