On the Trans Stories in the Media

(Trigger warnings for this post: cissexism, transmisogyny, sexual assault, murder, suicide. Also, probably, there should be a trigger warning here for clueless cis man talking about stuff outside his lane.)

This is not a blog post I want to be writing, or wanted to have to be writing. I am a cis man (cis means, basically, that when I was born someone said “It’s a boy” and I’ve never yet felt the need to disagree with them) and someone who doesn’t even really understand gender, let alone have strong feelings about it. But I’ve seen many trans people recently asking cis friends to be more publicly supportive of their rights, and while I hope my feelings about people’s rights are more than obvious, I thought I’d make sure of that.

Tomorrow is transgender day of remembrance — a day when trans people around the world mourn and remember the other trans people who have died over the year. Most of the deaths they mourn are either people who have been murdered for being trans, or those who have been driven to suicide by the bigotry and institutionalised prejudice against them. There are a truly horrifying number of these people — and those are just the ones we know of. No-one can know how many trans people kill themselves without ever having come out first, but we know that between a third and half of trans people admit to having made a serious suicide attempt at some point, almost always before transitioning, so we can imagine that the number is fairly high.

Now, one would think that in the days leading up to a day in which a discriminated-against minority mourn their dead, even those bigots who hate them would, possibly, show a little respect, and maybe not try to do things that would increase the number of dead people. That would seem to me, and hopefully to every one of my readers, to be an absolute minimum baseline for acceptable behaviour among human beings. 

Unfortunately, “acceptable behaviour among human beings” and “the behaviour of the British press” are two different things. Every day for the last fortnight, at least one newspaper, and usually multiple newspapers, has run a front-page story about how trans people are evil perverts who want to molest children. None of these stories, incidentally, have been even remotely connected to the truth, and this can be discovered within two seconds, usually, but that hasn’t stopped the British press from engaging in what is at this point a clear, co-ordinated, attempt at causing a “moral” panic about the existence of a small number of people who are harming nobody.

And politicians have jumped on the bandwagon, even politicians of ostensibly “progressive” parties. A spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party recently posted on Twitter about her desire to “educate” people about the “dangers of transgenderism”, and has as a result been lionised in the rightwing broadsheets and given a space on The Moral Maze to spout her bigotry. The Labour MP Jess Philips has been saying on Twitter that “both sides” (the ones who want trans people dead and the ones who don’t) are just as bad as each other and need to compromise (presumably by only killing half the trans people?). Tim Farron of the Lib Dems, a man who I’ve spent far too much of my time defending because of assurances from LGBT+ friends that he isn’t as bigoted as the media portrays him as, went on Question Time and spouted the same rhetoric about how trans people are harming children.

And this isn’t just a problem with the right-wing media, any more than it’s a problem with only right-wing politicians. Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, has been repeatedly claiming that everyone who argues with her on social media about her views on trans people is a Russian bot. (And the whole “Russian bot” narrative is a whole other thing that needs unpacking at the moment, but one massive problem at a time…). The Guardian  and Observer regularly run articles by people like Julie Bindel, Julie Burchill, Caroline Criado-Perez, and others who want to deny basic human rights to trans people.

The British political and media establishment has, in effect, declared war against trans people, just as it has already declared war against immigrants (and just as it’s gearing up for a full-on war against autistic people. We’re seeing the first few shots across the bow in that war already, but it’s not yet at quite the same level as the war on trans people). 

I would go through all the stories about trans people that have been smeared across the front pages, but there are too many of them — by the time I’d debunked one another three would appear. But if any of you out there are thinking something like “no smoke without fire” or “well, they’ve got a point on that one”, let me just say that every single one  of those stories has been debunked multiple times by trans people who don’t have their voices amplified, people who don’t get to use their columns in the Guardian and New Statesman, or their appearances on Question Time and the Daily Politics, or their questions at Prime Minister’s Questions, to talk about how they’re being silenced by people who have none of those platforms daring to say “please stop spreading hurtful lies about me” to them on Twitter.

Apparently most people don’t actually know any trans people (or at least don’t realise that they know any — not quite the same thing). I somehow know…. about twenty or thirty? Something like that anyway. Not because I’ve particularly sought out trans people, but just by one of those flukes of social sorting (probably the same one that also means I know fewer black or Asian people than is statistically likely — none of us have a perfectly representative social group). If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know any trans people, and you have any respect at all for my views, and you’re not someone with the time or inclination to search out the widely-available debunkings of this media and politics frenzy, please just trust me. Trans people are just people.

The transphobes keep talking about how trans people “want” or are “demanding” various things. From my conversations with trans people, what they want are the same kind of things that the cis people I talk to want. The main demands I’ve seen from trans people recently have been that their kids will stop pouring half-eaten bowls of cornflakes down the drain and clogging it, or that TV channels will stop showing SD transfers of films when HD transfers exist. 

Oh, and that they not be raped and murdered, and that they not be driven into nervous breakdowns and suicide by lies about them constantly being printed on the front page of newspapers, and that they be allowed some peace to mourn their dead friends.

If you think those demands are unreasonable, that says far more about you than about them.

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