On the Trans “Debate”

There are a few blog posts I’ve got mostly or wholly written, which I’d much rather be posting here — the next in my series of posts on Harry Nilsson, reviews of the new Christmas albums by the Monkees and Mike Love, a look at the Netflix Haunting of Hill House — but instead I’m writing a post I really wish I wasn’t writing.

Before I go any further — this is a post which trans people don’t need to read. You all know what I’m saying, and this is only going to remind you of various horrible things going on at the moment. This is for my fellow cis people only. (Though if any of you *know* that reading this won’t make you feel any worse, I’d appreciate feedback if I get anything wrong, but you are under no obligation to give it).

OK, now fellow cis people, listen up. Trans people are under attack in a way that’s worse than anything in decades. Every single media source in the UK without exception, from the Daily Star to Private Eye, from the New Statesman to the Times, has been printing outright lies, misinformation, and propaganda about trans people — this has nominally been because of the government’s consultation on changing gender recognition certificates, but in fact it’s had nothing at all to do with any of the issues raised by that tiny minor piece of bureaucracy and everything to do with planting in the mind of the public the idea that trans people — trans women, specifically, who’ve been bearing the brunt of this particular attack, though trans men and non-binary people have certainly all been hurt by this, and get attacks from other sources — are paedophiles and rapists who want to corrupt and rape your children. 

And this has been part of a wider campaign — one that has made no secret of its existence — brought to you by the same people who brought you Brexit and Trump. And Trump has now got in on the act — announcing that the US government is going to remove legal rights from trans people. The fascist leader of Hungary, Viktor Orbán — a man who caucuses with the UK Conservative Party in Europe, incidentally — has banned gender studies in Hungarian universities, on the grounds that “We do not consider it acceptable for us to talk about socially constructed gender rather than biological sexes”.

This is, in short, a hate campaign *which is rapidly turning into a genocide campaign*. When multiple governments are trying to ensure that even the *concept* of trans people is one that is totally erased, we’re far past the time for worrying. This is an actively genocidal movement, now — and that’s the way it’s been trending for many years, with people like Julies Burchill and Bindel engaging in rhetoric which dehumanises a tiny minority.

Now, in the normal article of this type, here’s where I would appeal to your self-interest. I would point out the fact that the anti-trans people are, very explicitly, doing this as a wedge to attack other parts of the LGBT+ group, and that they will then go on to attack other minorities. I’d quote “first they came for” and all of that. I’d talk about how cis women are getting gender-policed for going into women’s toilets because they’re not performing femininity to the required standards.

Fuck that.

We don’t stand up for trans people because they might come for us next (though I’m autistic and it’s likely they’d come for me before they come for most of my readers). We stand up for trans people because they’re people, and because they’re being attacked.

Every trans person I know, right now, is hurting. Many are having to avoid social media altogether because of the torrent of hate being spewed at them from all sides. Many are having all their energy drained by this — energy that would be going into their jobs, or their hobbies, or their families, or their volunteer work, is instead being spent just on basic defence of their right to exist in public. People who would otherwise be writing code, or climbing mountains, or making music, or just hanging out with their friends, or doing a million other things to add joy and variety to the world and to themselves, are instead having to fight for their very survival.

Even if we had a 100% cast-iron certainty that not one single cis person would be hurt because of these people, that there would be no collateral damage, that this time the story would be “first they came for the trans people, and then they stopped”, it would still be absolutely, utterly, unequivocally wrong to stand at the sides and do nothing.

It is incumbent on all of us to do something, so here are a few things we can all be doing, right now:

If you have spare money, donate it to Mermaids, who do excellent work for trans children and teenagers.

Whether you have spare money or not,if and when you use Amazon, visit smile.amazon.co.uk instead of the normal Amazon site, and set your charity of choice to Stonewall. Stonewall will only get a few pence per transaction from this, so it’s not a substitute for normal charitable giving, but it’s still a few pence, and it doesn’t cost you anything.

If you’re in a political party, join the LGBT+ organisation within it, and push for it to be more trans-affirming if it already isn’t.

If you pay money for a news source, and you see a transphobic article in it, write a letter to the editor.

If you have trans friends, and they ask for help, help *in whatever way they ask*, even if it contradicts the things I said above. Give the help that’s needed, whatever that help is.

But most of all, this is the thing you can do more than anything else — *push back on the ‘legitimate concerns’ narrative*. As with racism, almost all transphobia is, right now, phrased in terms of “just asking questions” or “opening the debate” or “saying the unsayable”, or “respecting concerns”. For every one person who openly says “I hate trans people and want them dead” there are a dozen who say “of course I’m not transphobic, but is it really transphobic to be worried that [incredibly transphobic statement]? Can’t we have balance, and respect the rights of trans people *and* [euphemism for transphobic bigots]? And why do those trans people have to be so *rude*, using words like TERF? There are bad people on both sides…”

Now, in a different political climate, it might make some sense to treat those people as being sincere and well intentioned, to try to argue with them rationally. It would certainly be easier, and cause less stress. You might even be someone who worries about those things a bit yourself.

In this political climate, though, the people saying those things are not people who can be humoured any more. We all — *all* of us — need to make it clear that when a minority group are under attack, the only thing to do is side with them unequivocally. If you have questions about trans rights, or about balance, or your understanding of gender and sex doesn’t yet allow you to really understand how someone with a penis can be a woman or someone without one can be a man, or what non-binary even means… well, so did I, for quite a long time. It doesn’t make you a bad person to have doubts about these things. What does make you a bad person is to put those doubts ahead of the real lives of real people who are under attack.

If you have questions, use google to find as many resources written by trans people as you can. Don’t use “asking questions” as a way to attack trans people, and don’t let other people do the same. If you see other people doing that, shut them down. 

In particular, if you see people talking about the issue as one of “women’s rights” versus trans rights, remember that the vast majority of cis women don’t see a conflict. Trans rights *are* women’s rights, when the trans person in question is a woman. 

We have a cultural predisposition to be supportive of “debate”, but right now trans people are constantly being told to debate their right to exist with people who don’t see them as human, and being called enemies of free speech for not smiling at their attackers.

Those who are disingenuously “just asking questions” are, at best, useful idiots and at worst are actively on the side of evil. It needs to become socially unacceptable to do that. It needs to be something that no-one would say in polite company. Transphobia needs to become utterly socially toxic. 
Because right now, every time you smile and nod at those questions, you’re smiling and nodding at the idea of genocide. It’s far past time to take a stand, and if you have any moral courage at all, you take a stand with victims, not perpetrators.

Trans rights are human rights. It really is that simple.

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2 Responses to On the Trans “Debate”

  1. David Lewis says:

    I’m hoping not to offend, but, seriously, who cares how people identify? I mean if you’re living a life that is ethical and good, does it matter if you’re cis, trans, gender fluid etc. even if it’s not scientifically ‘right’, who cares?

    Unfortunately people do. Not smart people, not empathic people, not good people. But I will not tell anyone they aren’t what they say they are, And will not tolerate oppression of people under any circumstance.

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