This is one of five pieces by different writers commissioned by the Observer to cover the big issues of 2016: you can also read Carole Cadwalladr on tech disruption, Ryan Avent on how technology puts millions of jobs in jeopardy, Ian Buruma on the rise of autocrats, and (in print only at the moment) Michael Sandel on what progressive parties need to reckon with to retain relevance.
In 2016, body politics went definitively mainstream. Transgender people, having previously been objects of niche curiosity and prurience at best from most of the media, became the subject of mid-morning current affairs debates, in-depth documentaries and sympathetic profiles. What does it mean to be trans? How should society change to give trans people necessary rights and protections?
These questions received urgent discussion, while other issues were more implied than addressed: how much is anyone able to control their own body, both in terms of what they choose to do with it and how it is perceived by other people? That problem of rights and responsibilities, and the tension between the individual and society, simmered away not only in the context of gender but also when it came to many other matters of sex and sexuality.