Transphobia, Part 7: Moral Panic

A moral panic is a “feeling of fear spread among many people that some evil threatens the well-being of society…It is the process of arousing social concern over an issue – usually the work of moral entrepreneurs and the mass media.” (Wikipedia).

A moral panic is a common political tactic used to unite otherwise disparate groups into undermining the equality and rights of a minority and/or oppressed group, such as women, Catholics, gay men, lesbians, socialists, people with HIV/AIDS, Muslims, people of colour, travellers and Jewish people. The groups are targeted by a more powerful group (e.g. men, Protestants, straight people, capitalists, white people), which feels threatened by the prospect of the oppressed group gaining more political power and equality. The oppressors use moral panic to stir up widespread prejudices within a populous to encourage them to act against the oppressed.

In the UK a moral panic is currently being stirred to undermine the rights of trans people. Certain political actors (e.g. politicians, journalists) are capitalising on the large amount of transphobia already present in the country as well as provoking more of it. The key aim of a moral panic is to incite fear, to make the broader population feel threatened by trans people, so they act against them. Many people I know are being caught in this moral panic and being encouraged to act on their transphobia rather than question, explore and change it. Many of these people consider themselves liberal and tolerant but their empathy and compassion is being replaced by prejudice and hostility. The fear mongering and stereotyping is working as trans people are routinely being dehumanised and discriminated against. Here are some ways to discover if you are being caught up in the moral panic.

Threat to the safety of children and women

  • Are you being encouraged to think of trans people as a threat to children? For example, you might read media that associates trans people with paedophilia or calls them predators, or describes trans people as recruiters, i.e. wanting to recruit young people and force them to transition against their will. This is an old tactic in the book of moral panic and just replace trans people with black people or Jews and you realise how abhorrent it is (if you don’t already).
  • Are trans people, especially trans women, being presented as a threat to cis women? For example, that they want to enter female spaces so they can assault and rape women.
  • Are trans identities being ignored and trans women being presented as ‘men in dresses’ to further bolster the idea that they are dangerous and threatening to women?

A threat to feminism and women’s rights

  • Are women’s rights being presented as incompatible with trans rights, especially the rights of trans women? For example, women’s rights might be presented as a zero sum game, meaning that any effort to support trans women’s rights undermines the rights of cis women – of course, the term ‘cis’ won’t be used (it may well be ridiculed instead) because the proponents of this view don’t believe in trans identities and, therefore, don’t believe in cis identities either.
  • Are efforts to increase inclusion – e.g. recognising that many non-binary and trans men menstruate – being presented as an effort to undermine women’s rights?
  • The above is an example of scaremongering. Another one would be presenting dystopic scenarios, for example, that trans people are wilfully ignoring the rights of women and may even want to erase the category of women entirely. Here, hyperbole and escalation are being used to make you afraid of trans people.

Medical transition as mutilation and dangerous

  • Are you learning of medical transition through examples of medical malpractice, i.e. the times when doctors have harmed patients? If so, it’s likely these instances of medical malpractice are being presented as proof that surgical transition is dangerous and extreme, often described as mutilation rather than surgery. By not focussing on the majority of successful instances of surgical transition, which have transformed people’s lives for the better, you are being encouraged to associate surgery with pain, suffering and even torture, so you are prejudiced against it.
  • Against this backdrop of medical malpractice and mutilation are you being made to believe that the safety of young people is threatened by surgery and transgender identities? Again, the focus is pulled away from all the trans people who want and need surgery, many of whom are young people.
  • Are you being made to believe that young people are being forced to medically transition? For example, that counselling and other forms of care and education don’t form part of the process of transition.
  • Are you being made to believe that being transgender requires medical surgery, when actually it doesn’t?
  • Are you learning of transgender lives through examples of medical detransition – when someone has stopped or reversed a medical gender transition? Are these examples being used to discredit the broader identity of transgender – thereby dehumanising trans people more generally as well as appropriating that individual’s experience of detransition for transphobic ends?

The ‘trans orthodoxy’

  • Do you regularly see phrases such as ‘trans orthodoxy’, ‘trans agenda’, ‘trans ideology’ and ‘trans dogma’, as if all transgender people form part of a powerful political unit or group rather than an oppressed minority made up of many, many individual people who lack political power as a collective? How would you feel if you read of the ‘Jewish agenda’ or the ‘black agenda’?
  • Are trans people being associated with fascism – e.g. called Nazis for ‘demanding’ equality and calling out transphobia; or referred to as part of the Rainbow Reich? Associating trans people with fascism is designed to make them sound extremist and dangerous.
  • Are examples of harmful behaviour (e.g. someone tweeting a death threat to J. K. Rowling) being used to further essentialise trans people and present them as dangerous? To be clear, I stand against the issuing of death threats but, here, they are being used as a tool in a political effort to undermine trans rights, rather than as a call for more nuanced and empathetic discussions around equality.
  • Are instances of transphobia being downplayed and rejected as transphobic by cisgender people? A bit like a white person telling a black person they haven’t experienced racism when they just have.
  • Are instances of a transphobe being called out on their transphobia being represented as an attack on the transphobic person? A bit like a sexist man getting angry he has been called sexist. This is a distracting tactic used to make people ignore the transphobia and focus their ire back on the person being discriminated against.

Stereotyping and dehumanising

  • Are trans stereotypes being used to further dehumanise trans people?
  • For example, trans women with features often typically associated with masculinity are often dehumanised and stereotyped. We may be encouraged to laugh at them and think of them as ridiculous, threatening and/or disgusting.
  • Another form of stereotyping concerns ‘snowflakes’ and ‘generation woke’, i.e. presenting people who want trans liberation as overly-sensitive, unreasonable and/or threatening, in a bid to undermine their demands/requests for trans equality.
  • Or perhaps efforts to make trans people lives safer and happier are being ridiculed – e.g. mocking people’s pronouns; mocking other forms of gender identity such as genderqueer and non-binary. Or they are being held up as unreasonable and unsafe – e.g. deriding medical practitioner’s efforts to use more inclusive language as bowing down to ‘trans orthodoxy’.
  • The aim of this stereotyping is to dehumanise trans people – to make them appear less than human – which makes it easier for others to act against them.

Your identity

  • Is your gender and/or biology being weaponised to make you less sympathetic to trans people? For example, you might be made to imagine your genitals being ‘mutilated’ to make you less supportive of medical surgery.
  • Or perhaps because you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, you are encouraged to imagine anything else as invalid.
  • Or someone being trans is presented as a threat to your own gender. For example, the existence of trans women somehow being a threat to cis women and an effort to undermine the category of womanhood.
  • Or someone being non-binary is presented as a ‘loss’ to your gender. For example, a non-binary person who was designated female at birth might be presented as a loss to women and somehow responsible for further undermining women’s rights.
  • This narrative of loss is a pervasive one and often used against people of minority genders (e.g. trans and non-binary). Look out for the phrase “it’s such a shame”, for example, “it’s such a shame that X is non-binary now” – this invalidates their gender and incorrectly assumes that the gender they were assigned at birth is their ‘true’ gender.
  • I’ve also heard this used in the context of protecting young people. For example, “I’m worried that young women seeing ‘older women’ come out as non-binary will feel that’s their only option.” This both invalidates the non-binary person’s gender and makes it seem that not being cisgender is somehow a bad thing turned to out of desperation and unhappiness.

As the moral panic sets in so transphobic prejudice and hostility increase, as does indifference to the suffering and lived experiences of trans people. You might be experiencing this. For example, do you baulk at the idea of gender inclusive toilets because you think trans women are dangerous men in dresses? Or do you think medical surgery shouldn’t be allowed for transgender people because you think of it as mutilation? Or you think transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to self-identify? Or that trans people receiving counselling and therapy is the equivalent of undergoing conversion therapy (a type of torture that is still legal in the US and UK, as well as many other places)? All of these views undermine trans equality and in having/expressing them you are part of the process of making society more hostile to trans people. You encourage transphobia. This makes it easier for transphobic politicians to enact transphobic changes to the law because there will be more support for them. It also makes it easier for violent transphobes to attack and/or kill transgender people. You might decry violence but societies in which transphobia is more widespread have higher anti-trans crime rates. Meanwhile, widespread indifference and hostility makes it harder for trans people to access the support services they need. This endangers their well-being and mental health and results in higher homelessness and suicide rates. You might not want trans people to be made homeless or to take their own lives but your transphobia contributes to a process that makes these things happen.

There is a causal chain that connects all transphobic beliefs to the violence experienced by trans people, which includes verbal abuse, physical assault, corrective rape, murder, mental health decline, suicide, homelessness, economic instability, unemployment and unhappiness. Prejudice facilitates the suffering of others. Ignorance and indifference exacerbate it.

The antidote to moral panic and its consequences is to inform ourselves, empathise and take political action to enshrine trans rights and equality. Look to trans people and learn about their experiences and stories. Read up on what it means to be transgender (rather than assuming what you read in that one article written by a cis person is true). Acknowledge your prejudices – we all have them and that’s (sadly) just a fact of being alive today; challenge your prejudices by exploring their origins and learning new information; change them by becoming a trans ally rather than a transphobe. A moral panic depends on fear and fear depends on ignorance. The more we learn the less afraid we have to be and the harder it will be to manipulate us. To summarise, transgender people are not the problem, transphobia is the problem. A moral panic cannot take hold in a society free from ignorance and prejudice. We can and must create that society.

 

Trans flag

Transphobia, Part 6 – ‘Gender Critical Feminism’

A lot of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (aka TERFs) do not like being called TERFs and consider it a slur, even though it accurately describes their anti-trans (aka transphobic) views and beliefs. However, rather than question whether they should be organising to undermine trans rights and equality they often come up with new language that sounds a little ‘softer’ and makes their transphobia seem a little more palatable. So we get the term ‘gender critical feminist’ instead. In this post I will explore a few of the ‘arguments’ ‘gender critical feminists’ put forward for undermining trans rights and equality. Much of this is a summary of the video by ace Youtuber, ContraPoints – do have a watch (below), she’s much funnier than I am!

First things first, all feminism is gender critical – gender norms and conventions are analysed, as are power dynamics between different genders. Meanwhile, different forms of feminism have different goals – e.g. some might want to eliminate gender while others wish for an increased range of gender categories. But none of this is transphobic and trying to sneak transphobic views in under the umbrella of being ‘gender critical’ is disingenuous and deeply harmful (much like how racists rebrand racism as ‘race realism’ as ContraPoints observes). These transphobic views are usually based on a binary, biological and essentialist understanding of gender – i.e. that there are two genders, male and female, which are determined by the chromosomes and reproductive organs we have.

Thus, ‘gender critical feminists’ view trans people through this binary and reductive lens. So, for many ‘GFCs’ trans women are actually men in women’s clothes worthy of criticism. These criticisms include wearing clothing that’s ‘too feminine’, thereby perpetuating patriarchal standards of femininity; or appearing too ‘masculine’ and thus failing to meet the rights standards of femininity. Trans women can’t win either way and find themselves on the receiving end of prejudice disguised as a critique of patriarchy. The simple truth is that no one has the right to police how someone else appears and/or dresses. Trans people deserve the right to self-expression just like everyone else and liberating any group of oppressed peoples liberates us all.

‘Gender critical feminists’ use terms such a ‘trans ideologues’ and ‘trans orthodoxy’ to imply their is a homogenous group of trans people trying to make everyone trans or threatening children or just waiting to get into women’s toilets to commit acts of violence against cis women. Thereby, an association grows between these deceptively simple terms such as ‘trans dogma’ and the broader stereotypes that are used to dehumanise and harm trans people. Remember when J. K. Rowling criticised the use of the term ‘people who menstruate’ in an article on Devex and said the word should be women. However, Rowling’s comments ignored trans men and non-binary people. So, an attempt to use more inclusive terminology was tarnished as an effort to repress cis women and was connected with this broader anti-trans narrative that trans people, especially trans women, are a threat to other women. However, no trans-inclusive feminism would expect a cis woman to stop calling herself a woman and the article even spoke of the “girls, women, and gender non-binary persons [who] menstruate”. Rowling’s implication that women were being erased was actually an act of transphobic scaremongering. Regardless of whether one strives for a world without gender or one of gender abundance, feminism entails the championing of all women and this, of course, includes cis women. The existence of trans people is not an assault on cis people. Trans identities are not a threat – the threat remains the huge amount of violence perpetrated in the name of patriarchy.

ContraPoints focuses on other ways that ‘gender critical feminists’ weaponise issues around male privilege, reproductive oppression, gender stereotypes and gender metaphysics to further entrench their transphobia. Ultimately, she notes that all transphobia stems from the same place – visceral disgust. This isn’t rational even though it’s ‘rationalised’ in all sorts of horrible ways. Just like homophobes are disgusted by the sight of two men kissing, for example, so transphobes are disgusted by the existence of trans women. Likewise, they may well be disgusted by the sight of a trans man or even angry that he’s ‘betrayed’ his ‘true’ gender, i.e. female. I would add that transphobia (and queerphobia in general) also stems from fear, e.g. a fear of cis men misapplied to trans women who are inaccurately seen as men; or even the fear of oneself (many straight men fear they may be somewhat attracted to other men and take this fear out on gay, bi and queer men). It’s a sad old story and the endless abuse of this disgust and fear is setting human rights back decades and causing untold harm to trans people around the world, as well as bolstering support for far more extremist and terrifying worldviews.

I realise in describing people as TERFs over and over again, as I have done in this post, it may seem like I am dehumanising them and reducing them to their prejudice. However, just as with the terms racist, sexist, homophobe and transphobe, I think it’s important to have terminology which makes visible people’s prejudices, so they can be held to account for them. I also think it’s important to resist and criticise efforts to rebrand prejudice to pass it off as something more acceptable. When it comes to TERFs and ‘gender critical feminists’ the end result is still the on-going verbal, legal and physical assault of trans people. And even if a TERF might decry the use of physical violence their views facilitate it. A further irony is that TERFs will decry the use of the term TERF as an offensive slur while continuing to misgender trans people and refusing to acknowledge their existence and humanity. Prejudice is the real problem here, not the term being used to describe someone’s prejudice. Imagine if someone said they were ‘race critical’ or ‘Judaism critical’ or ‘women critical’ – we would immediately know we’re dealing with prejudice and bigotry. The same is true for this transphobic brand of ‘gender critical feminism’.

Just To Clarify, It Is Your Fault

Spoilers for It’s A Sin

There is a beautiful moment at the end of It’s A Sin, Russell T. Davies’ new series exploring the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when Jill Baxter confronts Valerie Tozer, mother of her best friend Ritchie, who died the day before from AIDS. As well as not telling Jill when it happened, Valerie also made it impossible for her to see Ritchie and say goodbye. In response, Jill tells Valerie that it’s all her fault – the lack of support Ritchie had around his sexuality throughout his life, the shame he lived with about his sexuality, how that shame kept him sleeping with other men and passing on the virus. “Actually it is your fault, Mrs Tozer. All of this is your fault.”

I agree.

I shall not specify who the you of this blog post is because I hope you know if you’re the sort of person who does not champion and support the LGBTQ+ community and makes our lives harder be it through ignorance, indifference, antipathy, prejudice, bigotry and/or violence. Whether you are the sort of person who espouses transphobic views or shames men who have anal sex. Whether you think non-binary people are simply confused about their gender or that bisexual people don’t exist. Whether you think queer people deserve to burn in hell or are welcome in your congregation so long as they tone it down. For these things and more you form part of a long legacy of queerphobia that has killed thousands and thousands and thousands of LGBTQ+ people.

The suicide statistics. The self-loathing. The homelessness. The depression. Loneliness. Anxiety. Fear. Shame. Trauma. Isolation. Self-harm. It is your fault. You make us hate ourselves or you simply ignore us so we think we are invisible and worthless. You tokenise and stereotype us. You feign largesse by letting a few of the ‘not so bad’ ones have a seat at your table. You take pride that there aren’t any gays in your family. You silence transgender voices with your transphobia. You still say bad stuff’s gay. You steal our stories and tell them badly. You turn the homophobia of the 1980s into the transphobia of today. You say we are a threat to children.  You make the quest for Queertopia next to impossible by decimating, over and over again, the efforts we LGBTQ+ people make to build community. Some of you don’t. Some of you are beautiful & brilliant and I couldn’t live without you but this post isn’t for you.

I don’t want to exchange the shame you give for more shame. I don’t want you to feel worthless and miserable but I want you to stop killing us, literally and metaphorically. I need you to take responsibility for your actions and inactions and I need you to learn. It’s too late – for so many – but there is still time. It’s too late – fascism is alive and well – but there is still time. Take the blame, then turn it into something better. Make this blog post redundant. You can start by watching It’s A Sin.

Transphobia, Part 5 – Feminism

There is a common misconception that the existence of transgender people is a threat to feminism. Much transphobia is levelled at trans women, who are considered to be threats to cis women (not that a transphobic person would call themselves cisgender because they question the existence of transgender people, as outlined in my previous posts). We saw this form of transphobia come up a lot last year, most notably by J.K. Rowling. In response, many people defended the comments made, defensively proclaiming that someone like Rowling isn’t and can’t be transphobic. But. Transphobia is interwoven into the fabric of our society and its norms, and regularly appears in our actions and beliefs. And rather than defend and double down on our prejudices we can acknowledge, challenge and change them.

I believe the origin of this form of transphobia lies in the widespread belief that men are threatening and violent. This view is underpinned by the huge amount of violence perpetrated by men towards women. However, this is a concern regarding cisgender men, not transgender women. But because many people do not believe or fully believe in transgender people, it is assumed that transgender women are actually just men dressing up as women and are, therefore, devious and a threat to other people, especially women and children. This is why they shouldn’t be allowed to use women’s toilets or changing rooms and why something like the Gender Recognition Act (which allows people to legally change their gender) should be questioned – because cisgender men will use it to pretend to be women so they can continue to commit acts of violence. This belief – that transgender women are actually just men – is both inaccurate and prejudiced, as are the resulting beliefs it produces, not to mention the huge amount of pain and suffering these beliefs cause. The truth is that transgender women are women.

Unfortunately, many people do not believe this and continue to dehumanise trans women while scapegoating them for the violence of cisgender men. Furthermore, even if a cis man were to pretend to be a woman so he could enter an all-female space to commit violence that still says nothing about trans women (or trans people in general) but everything about this particular cisgender man’s violence. I find it genuinely heart breaking to see trans people demonised and dehumanised in this way (just as gay men were once and still are regularly called paedophiles and perverts to justify undermining their human rights). The existence of transgender people really shouldn’t be up for debate just as we don’t question whether bisexual people exist or black people or cis women. I believe it is possible to articulate a form of feminism that champions all women, including cis and trans, and protects the reproductive rights of all women. Broadening our conception of womanhood does not dilute it but diversifies and strengthens it. This isn’t about trying to limit any women’s rights or limiting her access to spaces and resources. This is about enshrining more rights and creating more spaces and providing more resources. It’s about recognising the Patriarchy Pie is inherently unjust and causes minorities and oppressed groups to fight one another, rather than make a new pie together. As someone assumed to be male, amongst other things, the patriarchy pie affords me many privileges. But rather than cash in on them and turn my back on others I say, bullshit! I want a better pie, that’s fairer and tastier, for everyone, and that absolutely includes trans people.

I make these comments as someone who was raised a cisgender man and who now identifies as genderqueer. I will absolutely not speak for women and whilst I wish for a world of equality I cannot force anyone to suddenly feel comfortable with change. There may well be discomfort on the road to change as assumptions we long held about gender are challenged and dislodged. But I believe the discomfort felt by cisgender people as they are made to question the gender binary is so much less than the discomfort and pain they create by being transphobic. The former, I believe, is necessary for positive change while the latter is totally unjustifiable and inhumane.

Federal judge allows transgender discrimination lawsuit against North Carolina officials and universities to proceed

Transphobia, Part 4 – Cisgender Privilege

Instead of taking the time to learn about what it is and means to be transgender, many people fall back on prejudiced and/or under-informed thinking. Rather than listen to trans people they shout them down. Rather than defend trans people against transphobia they defend the people making the transphobic comments. Rather than acknowledge that their own views might be transphobic they double down on the same transphobic views. There are many reasons for this including people’s refusal to accept that transgender people exist. A further reason is that the existence of transgender people may challenge the views and beliefs we have around our own gender, not least that we may be cisgender – a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.

Many people recoil at the thought of being cisgender and ridicule the concept entirely when actually it is very simple to understand and also very common. Loads of people are cisgender and that’s totally ok! The cisgender identity does not undermine someone’s existence, it simply acknowledges that their gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. Simple. It also makes clear that a person is not transgender and, therefore, does not have to experience the sort of violence and prejudice a transgender person experiences because they are transgender – including verbal abuse, economic disadvantages, ridicule in much cultural media, physical assault and murder. That’s not to say a cisgender person will not suffer from these experiences but it will not be because they are transgender. Nor does it imply that cisgender people have an easy life full of luxury (privilege here doesn’t mean riches), it just means they are not transgender and won’t be faced with the issues transgender people face for being transgender.

However, all of the above depends on our ability to acknowledge that transgender people exist and, therefore, so do cisgender people. A comparison might be white people denying that they are afforded certain privileges because they are white rather than black or brown. Or that black or brown people don’t exist. Another comparison could be men refusing to acknowledge male privilege. Or refusing to acknowledge the existence of women (they might instead see women as objects or lesser forms of men). If any of these possible views strike you as ridiculous, please know that it is just as ridiculous to not believe in transgender people and to deny cisgender privilege. For more information on cisgender privilege take a look at this useful website. To be continued…

Transphobia, Part 3 – A Broader Conception of Gender

Broadening our understandings of gender will allow us to be better trans allies and, thus, lessen the amount of transphobia there is in the world (of which there is so much). However, many of us do not do this and view the world through a binary lens – that the only genders that exist are male and female and these genders are synonymous with assigned biological sex. This view may be able to incorporate, to an extent, people who are perceived to transition from one binary gender/sex to another but this can still prove difficult to understand/accept, not to mention the existence of other genders. This view is the root of a lot of transphobia and one I used to hold.

Returning to my first post on transphobia, I described my 19 year-old self holding transphobic views towards a gender-nonconforming person who I assumed to be a man dressing up as a woman. I took certain physical characteristics and assumed this meant the person was male and made particular assumptions about the gender of the clothing they wore. I see it differently now. Firstly, an item of clothing cannot have a gender. It can, however, be generally worn by a particular gender (e.g. like how trousers used to be mainly worn by men) but this still doesn’t mean I can make any assumptions about a person’s gender based on their clothes. Remember, also, that the reasons certain items of clothing are associated with a particular gender often have to do with societal expectations, norms and/or prejudices (e.g. that women shouldn’t wear trousers). Furthermore, I cannot assume someone’s gender based on their physical appearance. Instead, I could ask someone for their pronouns and/or talk to them about their gender identity, if it felt appropriate to do so. Otherwise, I could just refrain from making assumptions and wait until I acquire further information or, perhaps, just not know those details about that person.

Another example would be my experience of being a cisgender male – i.e. being gendered in the same way as my birth sex was assigned (based on my genitalia). For a long time I believed that to be a man one must have testicles and a penis and be able to produce sperm. Now, my view has changed – I do not believe having certain genitalia and the ability to produce motile gametes are the hallmarks of the male gender. My view of the category of man includes people who have vaginas and can give birth, e.g. people who might call themselves trans men. I will not police the category of man, instead, I will welcome my trans brothers. Many, many people struggle with ideas such as these and the question remains the same – can we broaden our understandings of gender to embrace greater diversity or will we hold on to our current beliefs? As someone who identifies partly as genderqueer and who is also a trans ally I, of course, seek to enlarge my understanding and hope you will do so as well. It can seem confusing and difficult but I think going on this journey of learning is totally worth it and will lessen violence and increase love – my central aim (one many people are opposed to or claim to support until they double down on their prejudices). To be continued…

As an important caveat – many of the explanations and definitions I offer are not universally shared, which is a reminder of how important it is to not make assumptions and to spend time trying to understand other people’s beliefs and worldviews.

Trans, Transgender, Flag, Pride

Transphobia, Part 2 – What Does Transgender Mean?

For a long time I assumed if someone was transgender it meant they used to identify as either male or female and now they identified as the opposite gender. I believed this because I assumed gender to be a binary – either male or female. Add to this my belief that the prefix trans- only meant across, i.e. a transgender person crosses from one gender to another. However, a deeper dive into the etymological origins of the prefix reveals that as well as across, through and on the other side of, it can also mean beyond. Add to this the realisation that gender is not a binary and there are many genders beyond female and male. And finally, an actual definition of the adjective transgender: denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.

All along transgender had a broader definition than I originally knew – while it definitely encapsulates those who transition from one gender to another, e.g. male-to-female, it also includes people who do not identify as either male or female, including non-binary, genderqueer, and neutrois. So trans can be seen as an umbrella term covering a wide range of gender identities, including one of my own. This is easily forgotten when we assume all that exists is the gender binary. Furthermore, deeper into the etymology and we come to the Proto-Indo-European (super old language) *tra-, a variant of the root *tere-, meaning cross over, pass through, overcome. As well as the idea of movement there is also the idea of overcoming, which (accidentally or not) relates to the huge challenge of being a transgender person in today’s world. Such prejudice and violence must be overcome so transgender folks can simply survive, let alone live the flourishing and brilliant lives they deserve.

2020 is asking a lot of us and one of the things I think it asks is that we broaden our conceptions of gender (and biological sex for that matter). I can’t see a way forward without this. Failing to understand the nuances and abundances of gender means we fail all the folks whose sense of personal identity and gender do not correspond with their birth sex, of whom there are millions, myself included. By informing ourselves and changing our behaviours accordingly we will be able to remove some of the many challenges that trans people are forced to overcome on a daily basis. To be continued…

transgender flags

Transphobia, Part 1

There was one gay night a week when I was at university in the late noughties. Me and my friends would don our glad rags, have our prelash and pile into this tiny bar with a sweaty dance floor in the basement. I was nineteen years of age and a regular and pretty much always requested Candyman by Christina Aguilera. I remember one of the other regulars – long eyelashes, fabulous hair, glitter, make-up on point (as we say nowadays), feminine clothes and an array of body hair. I found this person equal parts captivating to repelling. I assumed they were male and used he/him pronouns (not that I spent much time thinking about people’s pronouns back then). I often found myself wondering why a guy would want to dress up like that. To my nineteen-year-old self this ‘guy’ was just weird.

Looking back I see my thoughts for what they were – transphobic. I was repelled by this gender non-conforming person and they evoked in me a whole host of internalised queerphobia, transphobia and misogyny. Why couldn’t they act like a normal man? Why did they dress so weirdly? What sort of guy would want to wear that much make-up (wasn’t guyliner enough)? Something else I also didn’t understand at the time was that I was deeply attracted to this person. But my mindscape was a shitshow of boarding school prejudices and conservatism with a big dose of toxic masculinity that I would have to battle for years to come. It wouldn’t be until the January sales of 2016 that I bought my first dress and not until the summer of 2018 that I wore a dress in public for a prolonged period of time. How sad that it took me so long when all those years ago that fellow regular at the weekly gay night (I don’t think it was called a queer or an LGBTQ+ night back then) was showing me how it’s done.

*

I share this here as an instance of transphobia in my own life. It would be a much better world if I had not been transphobic in the first place and had treated my contemporary with the love and respect they deserved. Sadly that wasn’t how it worked out and it took me a long time to learn my lessons. So I share this post, now, so we can learn our lessons quicker and more compassionately because transphobia is on the rise and so many trans people are suffering – whether it’s their mental and/or physical health, personal safety and/or their life.

One thing I wish I knew back then was that biological sex and gender are different. The former, also known as assigned sex, relates to medical factors including chromosomes, hormones and genitals. There are at least five sexes, if not more, and the two most common we label female and male. Someone’s sex tells us very important things about that person, their biology and the sorts of care they might require in their lives. Meanwhile, gender relates to someone’s identity and behaviours, which relate to larger social practices/norms/pressures/expectations of what it means to be a certain gender. Often the birth sexes of male and female are used to denote gender based on genitals (and presumed chromosomes), however, as I know now, there’s so much more to gender than a binary.

I shall leave you with a very simple online definition of the adjective transgender: denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. I wish my younger self  had this knowledge and understanding. I wish my younger self had sought it out. Instead, I was spending much too long analysing Descartes’ mind-body dualism (another binary we can do without) and sleeping off my various Wednesday morning hangovers. To be continued…

Uh-Oh, I’m A Millenial In My 30s (During A Pandemic)

For a certain sort of middle class Millenial such as myself there was a particular path laid out for me as I became an adult. In my 20s this path was to involve getting a job with a decent salary and slowly working my way up the office hierarchy. I would also meet my future life-partner, preferably of the opposite gender, with whom I would enter into an exclusive, monogamous relationship. At some point, possibly our mid-to-late 20s, we would enshrine this relationship in marital law, expecting it to last until we died. After marriage we would combine our financial assets and purchase our first flat (maybe even house!) and start to build a home. By the time we hit thirty we would have a child on the way, with plans for at least one more. It’s seems like a fairy tale life and, a few years into my thirties, I can assure you that I have achieved none of these things!

Regarding the job, I initially decided to pursue a path of environmental activism followed by one of writing and narrative coaching. Neither of these have landed me big bucks but it was a compromise I chose to make to pursue things I was passionate about. I also used the financial privilege I did have to support me in this. As for that life partner, well, I’ve blogged about the challenges facing gay and queer men a number of times. While a Conservative government may have made the tokenistic offering of marriage the mental health struggles, suicide statistics, loneliness epidemic and widespread unhappiness paint a very different picture. It’s not that we can simply translate our lives onto the blueprint offered by cisheteropatriarchy. And the older I get the more I realise I don’t want to do that, even if I could.

Because there are problems in monogamous relationships and nuclear families that rarely get discussed but often get felt acutely by and taken out on queer people. Some of us our thrown out of the very homes and families we were born into while most of us have to struggle through childhood, adolescence and adulthood with hardly any support at all in understanding who we are and how to build strength to face societal prejudice and indifference. It’s often not until we’re a bit older that we meet others like us and by that time it’s too late – we’re already carrying trauma and unhappiness, yet somehow are expected to cohere into a seemingly functional group of hetero-almosts who fit in and don’t cause too much of a fuss. If we’re lucky, we’ll find a group of like-minded folks who want to talk about our emotional experiences and identities in a supportive environment. I’m part of such a gay men’s group as we struggle through decades of piled up problems we could all really do without. But again, we’re having to take the initiative to protect ourselves with very few straight people stepping up to support us or showing a great willingness to hear our stories and help be the change (a phrase I hear a lot of cishet people bandy around). Somehow in and amongst this and all the other woes of neoliberal, consumer capitalism that further isolate and fracture we’re expected to be happy and make home. That’s a task I’m not even sure Hercules could accomplish. And now with the pandemic, multiply all these problems by a very high number and then add 100.

I want to be clear. I am not against monogamous relationships, life partnerships, heterosexuality, healthy celebrations of love and/or families. But, as ever, I want to speak a word for queerness and the myriad ways we are excluded from all of the above and how they are made exceptionally difficult for us. It is also when these things combine to create a culture of cisheteronormativity that actively excludes, tokenises, exoticises and, often, murders queer people, that I just have to call bullshit. The intersections of our struggles are unique and cannot be qualified with “it’s not that bad” or “it’s better than it used to be” or “it could be worse” or “but I don’t have a problem with the fact you’re gay”. I also want to be clear that the heterosexual people who benefit from the privileges of this system also face huge struggles. Domestic abuse, dysfunctional partnerships and family units, financial inequality, sexism, toxic masculinity, loneliness, are just some of the ways this system crushes those within it as well as those it ostracizes. I am not trying to pit heterosexuals against queer people but I am suggesting that there are alternatives to how we live and love that could benefit us all.

But the thing is, if we want these alternatives, which queer people have been busy building for years, it will take self-reflection and a willingness to let go of the privileges of heterosexuality and being cisgendered (this does not equate to relinquishing those identities if they are important to you). Privileges that often don’t make for happy lives but do make the lives of queers even unhappier. To be continued…

I Reserve The Right To Cancel You

Cancelling is when someone withdraws support from someone else, often a public figure, due to offensive things they have said and/or done. Like unfollowing J.K. Rowling on Twitter after she made her transphobic comments. Very sensible if you don’t want to be exposed to transphobia. However, lots of people decry cancel culture like the many people who share J.K. Rowling’s transphobic views and would rather defend them than understand why they are transphobic and, therefore, dangerous. It’s as if the detractors of cancel culture think unfollowing someone on Twitter is worse than experiencing transphobia and others should endure prejudice so we can continue the “debate” and “discussion” around whether trans people exist or not (N.B. they do). Furthermore, cancel culture has long pre-dated the likes of Twitter and Instagram, it’s just gone under many different names.

Patriarchy is a form of cancel culture in which women are cancelled. Racism, one in which people of colour are cancelled. Heteronormativity, one in which queer people are cancelled. The English class system is another classic – lots of rich, white men going to posh schools and posh universities and then getting top jobs in key sectors and industries. It’s called the old boys’ club. Technically I’m a part of it due to my educational background and it’s fab for getting a leg up in the world (if that’s what you really want). Although maybe these aren’t examples of cancel culture because someone has to be allowed in before they can be cancelled, maybe they should just be called exclusion culture. So, before you’re tempted to decry cancel culture, maybe check your privilege and explore the ways you haven’t experienced exclusion in your life before you call out a transgender person or trans ally for unfollowing J.K. on Twitter.

It’s curious though, isn’t it, all this defensiveness around cancel culture, as if the detractors want to push shame and responsibility elsewhere rather than examine their own beliefs and prejudices and the beliefs and prejudices of public figures they admire. Wilful and persistent ignorance, an inability to empathise and listen, maintained prejudices (however seemingly “minor”), an inability to take responsibility for one’s in/actions, defensiveness around being called out, passive aggressively pushing back at the oppressed person and/or group. These are some of the problems, not unfollowing someone on Twitter because they are prejudiced. I appreciate cancelling is not always done well but that’s not the point here. We can’t seriously always expect someone on the receiving end of prejudice to cancel someone well given the oppressor is often trying to cancel the very identity of those they oppress. So, yes, I reserve the right to cancel you because I like my boundaries and mental health, and I want to defend equality, not my prejudices.

Cancel, Stop, Culture, Subscription, Warning, Delete