Transphobia is on the rise across society and within the left. A recent report suggested four in five trans people in the UK have experienced a form of trans hate crime over the last 12 months. Meanwhile public figures including MPs have been able to use their platform to express transphobic views, often without consequences.
But what even is transphobia? How does it manifest in different parts of society? And how can understanding its roots and role in modern day politics help us all get better at identifying and challenging it when it arises?
Join us for the third event in a series of political education on trans liberation being organised by trans people within The World Transformed, Labour Campaign for Trans Rights and Momentum.Blurb from confirmation email
So, I logged into a call which was organised by The World Transformed (a political festival which competes with the Labour Party conference), Labour Campaign for Trans Rights (a pressure group inside Labour) and Momentum (a political movement which competes with Labour) , to find out: What even is transphobia? Short answer. Everything is transphobic.
But I know you’re not here for the short answer, so here we go … it began with Shon Faye positively preening into the camera. Faye has clearly had more surgery, and I have to admit, I’m impressed.
Felix Mufti, Labour Party LGBT+ Network
After some delays, a woman called Felix Mufti, who is currently crowd funding for a double mastectomy, and part of the Labour Party LGBT+ Network group (yet another pressure group inside Labour). Felix had effortlessly created the sitting-in-my-bedroom-sulking look that so many youtubers hanker after. The Network group are working with trade unions to develop training specifically for TU members on trans awareness and an event in January is to be held to celebrate the creativeness of trans people.
An article published that day in Labour List (a news website independent of the Labour Party but about Labour) explained the reasons for their programme. Further resources could be found in the Resource Hub of the World Transformed.
Felix told us most of us would have experienced the question ‘How is that transphobic though?’ whether directly or on social media. The current situation was ‘creating fake fights between trans women and non trans women’. It was clear that on the Left there wasn’t a good understanding of what transphobia actually means, how to spot it, and how to challenge it. This was therefore the dreaded training session. Felix rounded up by quoting some fake crime statistics about violence against trans people.
Chay Brown, Trans Actual
Chay Brown, Director of Trans Actual, was on hand to go through a 101 of transphobia. She told us we couldn’t go through the whole Trans Actual of definition of transphobia (here) and she wasn’t joking (see how long it is).
Chay told us all that many forms of transphobia dress themselves up ‘reasonable’. For example, she had been in a workshop on media prejudice and she was asked to share an example of a transphobic article. She chose one which was really obvious, ‘full of loaded language’ and ‘insinuations’ and yet no one else agreed. Chay put this down to people not knowing anything about trans people’s lives and it was the inspiration for setting up Trans Actual.
Chay did not tell us which article she had shared, or to name the issues it dealt with, nor any of the specific comments made. Her point was though: how can we challenge transphobia when we do not have a definition of what transphobia even is? Well, Chay, it makes it very fucking difficult to judge when you won’t even give the details of what you were offended by for a start. What kind of example is that?
Nevertheless it had inspired her to crowdfund – Chay said that it was to help with defining the definition, which she already has done. Or something. (Or since she is the named beneficiary it may well be a case of Arthur’s Christmas Club money.)
Of course, not only is there a lot microaggressive stuff, there is lots of violence too. Trans women and femme-identifying persons are obviously the main victims. The most important thing though, was that when women challenge gender identity ideology this creates unsafe spaces for trans people, increasing the likelihood of actual violence, which is why all the nuanced and reasonable stuff is so bad yeah.
Campaigns which had upset Chay included campaigns which conflated the GRA and Equality Act, Keira Bell’s challenge of the Tavistock Clinic, and Maya Forstater’s employment tribunal. Chay did quote marks signs with her fingers, when using words like ‘concerns’ and ‘conflicts’ – always a sure sign that someone is talking shit, and why can they never actually say the word at the same time they do the action?
The various legal cases bought by women had increased violence towards trans people fourfold. Chay said women were claiming to be ‘concerned’ but were not offering evidence to support it. When you dug down into it the ‘concerns’ were not justified or valid. These women were also ignoring and speaking over ‘other women and girls who were not trans’ who did agree with gender identity activism.
Media often portrays transgender people as a threat, Chay claimed. Articles about transgender people who had behaved violently were used by the media to portray all trans people as dangerous. People were also misusing statistics and misrepresenting the law, especially on the issue of prisons. They had also ignored all the evidence which proved that puberty blockers are safe (irony klaxon). Women were also guilty of misuse of language and the term ‘trans-identified’ was an attempt to remove self-determination from trans people.
Chay said that she often had to add additional explanation when she tells people that she is a ‘trans man’ and that a lot of people ‘don’t understand what that means anymore’. Trans-identified females were ignored for two reasons: 1) the toilets/changing room issue (it’s quite simple Chay, if you really do pass as a man, go to the gents), 2) it’s insinuated that trans-identified females cannot think for themselves.
Chay repeated that trans people had been completely removed from mainstream media, which does not explain the plethora of programmes which have appeared over the last few years, from that awful sitcom Rebecca Root starred in, to reality documentaries, trans people have had a fair amount of coverage.
Chay has not been invited once to talk on Newsnight about trans issues. Chay encouraged cis allies to challenge all forms of transphobia they come across, including dog whistles.
Felix asked for advice and Chay said find out what peoples ‘concerns’ are because often there is no actual evidence behind it. No ‘cisgender lesbians’ had concerns about the whole thing and they should bring that into the conversation.
Shon Faye, Writer
Shon Faye was there to explore the links between right wing politics and transphobia. ‘Trans people are a strange preoccupation of the far right,’ said Shon and went on to explain how this was all to do with eugenics (which is funny given that it is gender identity ideologists, like himself, who are the ones campaigning for children to be sterilised with GnRH agonists).
Shon said that he had spoken to Adam Ramsay, from the think tank Open Democracy, who has apparently done undercover investigations into far right groups, and when far right militants aren’t discussing white supremacy, they’re discussing gender ideology (i.e.trans people). Ramsay is a member of the Scottish Green Party. Need we say more.
A lot of far right activists are very misogynistic, Shon told us, and interested in upholding gender roles and trans people upset this narrative, particularly trans-identified men who had given up their role of male supremacy and represented a ‘contaminated masculinity’. The Christian right in America wanted to uphold traditional roles. Of course they have a lot of money to fund their nefarious aims which they spread all around the world, including Britain.
Shon thought there had been a resurgence of traditional conservatism in Britain which had a discomfort with ‘difference’ and ‘deviance’ and had progressed through to some people having an appetite on clamping down on the liberation of trans people. The present government treated trans people as if there were a ‘drain on the state’ and their health care needs weren’t properly catered for (conveniently ignoring the recent government commitment to providing more gender identity clinics).
Then he got onto ‘white fragility’ and how feminists were cosying up with the Christian far right and we were done!
What about transphobia in the Labour Party asked Felix. Shon said that transphobia was everywhere. Trans people aren’t here to promote cosmetic surgery, they’re counter revolutionaries! And that was used against gay people! (?)
Juliet Jacques, Writer and Filmmaker
Juliet Jacques gave his unique perspective on why UK media was so transphobic and what could be done about it. Juliet began by helpfully listing some mainstream publications and channels which were trans inclusive – Dazed, Vogue, Netflix. He branded the BBC, which runs several positive stories about trans people on a weekly basis, as transphobic.
The transphobic narrative from conservatives were that trans people were a threat and political correctness gone made. Liberal media presented a narrative that there were competing rights between trans people right to self-determination and women having the right to single sex spaces. These were the two lines of attack that were made.
There were attack on trans children and trans people were represented as being predatory, which was like homophobia in the 80s. Other attacks included people saying that men were identifying as trans so that they could win in sports or that male criminals would try to get access to women’s prisons (he particularly paused when mentioning prisons, his mind likely combing through the many examples).
Juliet bought up that it had been falsely reported that Ian Huntley had been planning to ‘transition’ – newspapers like the Express have printed retractions at Huntley’s request, see here.
About ten years ago Juliet managed to ‘break into writing for the Guardian and the New Statesman with the express intention of changing the terms of discussion’, including NHS waiting lists for cross sex hormones, transphobia in the media and how austerity affected trans people disproportionately. Trans Media Watch presented evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
Juliet talked about Richard Littlejohn’s article about a primary school teacher who had decided to publicly transition at his workplace. The man subsequently committed suicide and Juliet said that this was Littlejohn’s fault. In the article Littlejohn expressed sympathy for transsexuals and even said he thought surgery should be provided on the NHS, but was concerned that ‘Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t even had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies’ and were ill equipped to deal with their teacher’s revelation. The coroner decided that the Daily Mail and Littlejohn contributed to the death, but Upton/Meadows reportedly did not mention the press in his suicide note.
Juliet and other trans writers were boycotting the Guardian because they had run pieces which were not on side with trans activism. Juliet alleged that it was Liz Truss herself who had leaked that the government were scrapping GRA reform. Juliet also felt that if women’s toilets and changing rooms were to become single sex (they already are) then cops would be needed on the door. All this had been done to create fear in the trans and non-binary community.
So what can be done? Take up spaces on new media platforms, like the New Socialist, and keep working with people who want to work on joint struggles, said Juliet (i.e. go even further into an echo chamber).
Lola Olufemi: Black Feminist and Researcher
Lola Olufemi has an MA in gender studies and has written books on feminism. She was roped in to talk about how to ‘understand the ways that terfs, or trans exclusionary radical feminists, weaponise feminism to justify their aims’ (her exact words).
Lola said that ‘terf feminism’ originated in the 80s and 90s and was obsessed with male violence being linked to the body and in particular genitals. It was the kind of feminism that didn’t really want to change or shake up anything. In actual fact, it wasn’t radical feminism at all, but more aligned to liberal feminism and which tried to resolve injustice through law and policy change (yeah boring old law reforms, eh? Makes you wonder why trans activists wanted to reform the GRA, dunnit). Lola was only for wholesale society shake-up.
‘Terfs’ use a rhetorical tactic that when people try to shut them up, they say they ‘women are being silenced’ and Lola warned people not to fall into this trap. Lola asserted that black women and white women have different ideas about what womanhood is and explained that the category ‘woman’ is not a universally understood term. ‘Terfs’ also didn’t understand that feminism was a political project that was about making things better for everyone.
Terfs argue that there is a meaningful distinction between the two sexes and that sex is a natural pre-existing immovable thing that is true about us. And that there is something essential to our kind of biological make up that makes us male or female and thus men or women. Other terf arguments, if they’re not focussed on biology, specifically will argue that there is something immutable and unchangeable about how we are socialised as men and as women. […] What we know about scientific facts, or science in general, is that science is the result of experimentation. A scientist often thinks one thing is true, and then another person comes along and proves them wrong. I think sex distinction as male and female is something we constructed to make sense of each other, it’s a system we assigned to bodies so that we can recognise each other.Lola Olufemi, 17 December 2020
I’m still waiting to hear about the third gamete from these people.
Lola went onto to talk about how academics had noted that different cultures had different cultural norms, none of which is even slightly proof that sex doesn’t exist. Colonialism was obviously blamed for enforcing a binary, previous to that people ‘were just bodies’. Abolishing all the symbols and signs relating to gender will make all gender-based violence disappear. Just like that!
The system of signs and symbols meant that trans people had to undergo ‘invasive, costly medical procedures that are controlled and restricted by the state so that they can lessen their proximity to violence’.
Firstly, the state doesn’t control access to private cosmetic treatments. Secondly, it is possible to access such surgery in the NHS (vaginoplasty is sub-contracted out to the private sector though) . Thirdly, there are no reported cases of women physically attacking trans-identified men.
She went on in this vein for several more minutes. She should really get a place on the Future of Legal Gender team, she’d be a bright addition. Felix also congratulated her saying: ‘You really gave some people ways to combat their views and show that they’re being hypocritical, you know what I mean, by oppressing people, cos that’s not feminism, cos feminism is just about equal society.’
Labour are absolutely fucked if this is who is batting for them.
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