This time in the clapped out old Rio Cinema, minus mice for once.
About the event
Join Shon Faye live in London as she discusses her urgent Sunday Times bestselling book The Transgender Issue with journalist Moya Lothian-McLean.
Trans people in Britain today have become a culture war ‘issue’. The subjects of a toxic and increasingly polarized ‘debate’ which generates reliable controversy for newspapers and talk shows. Hear Shon discuss how we are having the wrong conversation and denying trans people a meaningful voice, exploring what it means to be trans in a transphobic society.
Don’t miss your chance to hear Shon’s call for justice and solidarity between all marginalised people and minorities. Trans liberation, as she sees it, goes to the root of what our society is and what it could be; it offers the possibility of a more just, free and joyful world for all of us.
Shon will be in conversation with Moya Lothian-McLean. Moya is a journalist covering politics and society. She’s currently a Contributing Editor at Novara Media and fronts the Broccoli Productions podcast Human Resources.
On The Transgender Issue:
‘Unsparing, important and weighty’ Observer
‘This book is a game-changer’ Owen Jones.
‘Read this book’ Ash Sarkar
‘This is a monumental work and utterly convincing’ Prof Judith Butler, University of California BerkeleyFrom Penguin Live’s blurb
First a bit about the interviewer
Moya Lothian-McLean works for Novara Media and publications such at Gal Dem, which is committed to ‘telling the stories of people of colour from marginalised genders’. For a Novara Media article she has argued that Judith Butler is being censored using all tweets and stuff to argue her case (in fact, if anything, The Grauniad did Butler a massive favour by making her seem less of a dickhead).
It is clear from that piece that she is one for conspiracy theories, repeating the idea that ‘terfs’ are a powerful shadowy cabal with loads of money. She hates anti-semitic conspiracy theorists though, which is why she works for Novara Media alongside Ash Sarkar, who has had her own –ahem – problems in this area, and happily quotes Owen Jones who is happy that the Spanish publisher of his book The Establishment: And how they get away with it has kept its anti-semitic imagery drawn by a known racist.
Truly #braveandstunning though is her article on rape crisis services, in which she also interviews Mridul Wadhwa, a trans-identified male who either lied about his sex to get his job as CEO of a rape crisis centre, or wants us to believe he did.
“The reply from [Martha* the director of operations at the organisation] and another senior staff member was that ‘if they sound like a woman on the phone, talk to them’,” remembers Lily. “‘If they don’t sound like a woman, it doesn’t matter if they say they are, hang up. We’re not supporting them’.”From Moya’s article in Gal Dem – ‘If they sound like a man, hang up’ – how transphobia became rife in the gender-based violence sector
Anyone who has ever volunteered for a phone service will know how routinely abusive men misuse these services and that no crisis service could possibly cope if they allowed such callers to swamp the service.
But anyway, that’s who interviewed Shon.
Mainly young women and many were trans-identified in different states of transition, I got the impression that most of the men were attending with a girlfriend. Trans-identified males were the smallest portion of the audience, though there were a few faces I recognised, including everyone’s favourite Aunty; Roz Kaveney. I found out later that Stonewall staff were seated in the circle but I went for the stalls. Damn. The crowd at the sold out event whooped and clapped like Moonies from the start. Much excitement was had with the loos, as 6 foot boys with mini skirts skipped into the ladies and pixie girls with fuzz on their face stormed into the gents.
Surprise screening of Guardian documentary ‘Reclaim’
We were treated to a surprise screening of the documentary below, a live performance from the London Trans Choir, plus Q&A. I have no idea why Penguin launched this surprise after tickets were already purchased. I have watched the documentary twice now and it is utterly unremarkable. The wrong copy of the film had been sent to the cinema, i.e. the one without subtitles, and a public apology was made. Two BSL interpreters in attendance, interpreting every word uttered, likely to a totally non-BSL signing audience (there are apparently 70,000 BSL users in the UK, but even that sounds like an over-estimation to me).
Q&A with the London Trans Choir
Having watched a 15 minute film which pretty much explained everything about the Choir we then had a 15 minute long Q&A with two of the main organisers of the Choir. The Q&A was hosted by Susanna, the documentary’s producer, and the panelists from the Choir were Anil Sebastien and Coda Galabov (both they/thems in the film).
What has happened to the Choir since the film came out in March?
Anil told us that the Choir were recording an album, had done a jingle for BBC 6 Music and would be performing at the Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Freak Show playing at The Roundhouse, Camden in July.
What was it like seeing the film on the big screen?
When the film was made both were in an earlier state of transition (results of which were clearly visible) and therefore this caused complicated feelings to arise. Cue the host to tell everyone that we needed to hold the space in the room for anyone prone to feeling triggered.
How do you deal with the different egos in the choir?
Admittedly a difficult question given the rest of the choir were in the audience. Anil went for ‘I don’t know’. Coda was more forthcoming, telling us that he was with his ‘chosen family’ but that at the beginning it had been like a ‘choir of narcissists’. Anil confirmed that those problems were now well in the past and that there was a real sharing of space. Awkward.
Which of you identify as classical musicians which identify as non-classical? (Asked by self-declared ‘non trans person’)
(I think she must have meant ‘Which of you are classically trained?’ because only that would make sense. The use of ‘identifying’ making her question into gobbledegook.)
Anil didn’t know and asked the Choir to give a show of hands. She identifies as a ‘queerdo singer’. I think that answered the question that none of them are classically-trained.
Are you thinking of expanding the Choir and where can we follow you?
The Choir had just started with four people and had now grown to about 20-30. The most important thing was that as ‘professional musicians’ (which they clearly aren’t) they should ‘bloody well get paid’ (indicating they had).
How does the choir deal with its shared discomfort?
Everyone in the group had experienced ‘being different’. When they rehearse it is normally through improvisation and naturally avoid assigning voice roles out (e.g. tenor, soprano, etc). It was a supportive space in which you could hear your own singing voice without judgement. You might even transcend dysphoria.
Trans singing icon?
It was a struggle for the community to find trans elders to look up to in this respect, so Anil nominated herself and then giggled.
Live performance from the Choir
They performed the song we had just seen them do in the short film, which is a shame because I would have liked to have seen something else other than the thing I had just watched. Having said that they can sing and harmonised well, and although I didn’t care for the sermonising, they are clearly a talented non-audition non-classically trained community choir.
Shon Faye in conversation with Moya Lothian-McLean
Shon Faye wore a black bodice thingy with knickers, a see-through black lace ankle-length skirt and black platform heels. The wims and germs all applauded this daring feat and he himself basked in the glory as he ascended the stage. Moya informed us that his book, The Transgender Issue, had now sold over 40,000 copies in the UK and is translated into six languages so far.
Shon did a reading from his rabidly left wing book – trans people have faced over a century of injustice, and justice for trans people meant justice for all – that sort of thing. Advocating for revolution basically. Those who push back against this are just fearful old bags and fusty reactionaries.
Let’s just remind ourselves when he was just plain old Sean.
Moya got straight into questions.
What are the two ways to think about The Transgender Issue?
Shon explained to us that it was aimed at people who didn’t know anything about the issue and that he hoped to educate people. The other thing he hoped the book did was to look at structures and systems and what was needed to remedy those. In other words, it’s a book for budding social justice warriors and full blown trans activists. He mocked the mantra ‘trans rights are human rights’ and the audience laughed. Of course, he is looking beyond the mantras, so mocking is fine when he does it.
The book is underpinned by a strong socialist ideology, do you agree? simpered Moya
‘Erm, yes Moya. He has just spent the last five minutes telling us as much, did you even read the book?’ we all thought.
Reactions to the book
Shon had thought that there would be more reaction to the section on trans healthcare but in fact it was the anti-capitalist stuff the broadsheets hadn’t liked. Shon was keen to emphasis how radical the book is and how many people he has pissed off. I remain unconvinced that he has pissed off anyone on his side.
Seven key areas of the book
A lot of the trans activism in the UK had been imported in from the US and it wasn’t a very good fit, for example transition-related treatment is free in the UK on the NHS, but not in the US. So he needed to build the case that trans people were systemically discriminated against here on a different basis.
There were chapters on bodily autonomy and sex work. He put the chapter on feminism at the end so that people had to read the whole book before they could get to it. The audience thought this absolutely hilarious. Have none of them heard of chapter headings?
What are the current healthcare problems for trans people and what does this say about the wider state of healthcare?
Shon – short of blurting out ‘trigger warning’ – told us he was aware that there would be many in the room aware of how dire things were at the moment. He repeated that in the US people couldn’t get transition-related drugs and surgery for free. Shon argued that ‘healthcare’ for trans people in the UK had essentially been privatised because the waiting lists were so long, people couldn’t wait. The other cause of this was that trans people had been pathologised according to a psychiatric model and I suspect he was arguing that people should simply have life changing drugs and procedures simply on demand, no counselling given. Obviously no drilling down into the issues of transition were explained further, botched surgeries, etc.
Shon acknowledged that there were ever growing numbers and that if you were referred today to a gender identity clinic by your GP in London the wait would be thirteen and a half years (audible gasps), whereas the NHS guideline is 18 weeks. Shon said that he didn’t know any trans people who weren’t self medicating or going private.
More broadly speaking, trans people were discriminated against when they accessed healthcare generally and he cited that GPs didn’t know much about it and repeated yet again that trans people were ‘pathologised’. This became an even worse situation when you were a trans person with another intersection, e.g. people of colour, neurodivergent, etc. A lot of trans people were excluding themselves from healthcare altogether (probably very true, but for different reasons).
Shon paid lip service to the fact that it wasn’t just waiting lists for gender identity clinics which were long, like as in he literally admitted that and then went back to whinging on about trans oppression, the ‘patriarchy’ and ‘marginalised bodies’.
Moya probed him a bit further and he told us that narratives about trans healthcare being a drain on resources was a ‘potent narrative’ and further compounded the problems of those who sought it. Being oppressed in so many ways affected your ability ‘to organise’ as well (Shon’s new word for activism).
‘In the book you highlight some of the healthcare models that exist currently for trans people in particular, how could they offer a framework for wider healthcare provision?’
Shon made a distinction between general healthcare needs and the ‘sick and ill and incapable’. He felt that trans, neurodivergent and disabled people all relied on healthcare but it was a very ‘doctor knows best’ attitude towards them. There were more radical ways of thinking about these structures, he told us, but then failed to tell us what they were, or answer the question at all.
Angling further away still from the question, Shon told us that the Royal College of Psychiatry had condemned the Government’s decision not to include gender identity in the conversion therapy ban – see the statement here. He believed that it was pointless appealing to such institutions.
The very public attacks on bodily autonomy in the UK – where are these attacks coming from? What is the agenda behind this?
Patriarchy often comes wearing different masks, Shon told us. Engaging in research is apparently against the principles of bodily autonomy. It was ‘deeply fascistic’ for the State to control what people did with their own bodies. There were far right groups in Hungary which were very preoccupied with trans people. It was also ‘deeply misogynist’ for people to believe that femininity was complimentary to masculinity, since it relied on the gender binary, which was a hierarchy. Trans people had disrupted this model. Geddit? No, neither do I, but at least he didn’t stoop so low as to call us ‘pound shop Ava Brauns’ (sic).
Transphobia – what’s special about it?
Erm, um, er, said Shon. Trans people were a threat to the status quo and therefore er, erm, um, under attack from everybody. The gender binary, however, wasn’t good for anyone, so trans activists were doing us all a favour breaking this down.
As for Terf Island, why were we always talking about genitals now? It’s soooo UnBritish, innit? Homophobia was people criticising ‘drag queens around kids’.
Austerity had affected many crisis services, but the demographic most affected by this, of course, were trans people because it affected where they ‘might sleep or stay’ due to the enforcement of the gender binary (otherwise known as the Equality Act 2010). This meant trans people were self-excluding from services or were forced to choose the worst service.
Hm. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
More on austerity – how does it impact contemporary transphobia?
‘The politics of scarcity,’ said Shon.
It is a myth that there are only so many resources and services or solidarity to go around, which is compounded by peoples’ quite correct observation that there seems to be a scarcity and a depletion.Shon babbling away unchallenged
The fear over scarcity of services was described as a ‘media campaign’ because Shon daren’t mention that a number of women’s’ rights groups had sprung up to talk about such fears, happy instead to invoke unseen forces. Austerity had allowed people to be scapegoated and out of that general pessimism had arisen.
NGOs and legal projects are the major bulwark against the assault on trans rights , but these are often working within the confines of the State. What implications does this have for the State in authority over things like gender?
This provided a moment for Shon to say ‘hi’ to the staff from Stonewall and of course Shon has previously worked for Stonewall.
Legal gender recognition was important, said Shon, but not in comparison to trans healthcare or street violence. It certainly wasn’t on his ‘shopping list’, he told us, and then had a little titter. The backlash against the 2018 proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act had put a disproportionate focus on laws and hence the ‘right of the State’ to determine who can be what. (Funny why trans activists had put so much emphasis on law change if it doesn’t even matter, on 29 June 2022 the government announced it will accept the equivalent gender recognition certificate from basically most countries if applicants apply for one in the UK.)
Then Shon told us that it ‘was nice that I have an F on my passport when I go through an airport’ rather undermining his claim that he doesn’t care about what Ruth Hunt, former Stonewall CEO, has famously termed ‘admin’. He shouldn’t have to have a psychiatric diagnosis to change his passport, he opined (which he doesn’t, anyone can do this).
The State should not be the arbiter of what gender is and who gets to transition. This had previously been under the control of psychiatrists but now were people happy to hand it over to the State, which would typically always be controlled by cisgender people. Not only that, the State could be very fickle!
Define pessimism and how it relates to transphobia?
Shon is going on a book tour to the US in September and was going to have to think up an answer to that question. Feminism was a trauma movement and a lot of people were drawn to it because they had experienced ‘gender-based violence’ or recognised the impact of violence on society. Feminism was radicalising a lot of people, not just women either, because it was exploiting the very real fears which exist.
Translation: Women who complain about violent men are hysterical man-haters.
Most of the violence that women experience is from cis men they know, Shon told us. Unfortunately this violence had not gone down and you had austerity also cutting down women’s refuge services. He acknowledged that these services were originally founded by feminists.
Translation: Women are to blame for entering into relationships with men.
Gender socialisation had not shifted enough to reduce gender-based violence.
Translation: Mums are baaad.
Of course the pessimism of feminism was ergo the cause of transphobia because it wasn’t able to look beyond bodies (aka sex) to see gender. Shon doesn’t know any ‘transwomen’ who have transitioned to enter women’s spaces (except he does, he knows Morgan M. Page). Such women had made ‘womanhood and femininity into a fortress’ to keep out ‘transwomen’. Shon told us men still have a lot of power that men like him don’t have access to. Right.
Ten years ago British people used to love ridiculing trans people. Most British transphobia was this; the want to ridicule and the fear to confront ‘gender itself’. Non-binary people were the particular targets of this ridicule currently.
Why was it so important for you to write a whole chapter on sex work?
Gosh, Shon is so very very posh and privileged, I can’t tell you. After meandering about, uttering meaningless phrases, like ‘I used to work at Stonewall’, we finally learnt his concern was that we don’t talk about trans people when we talk about sex work. If you look at the trans people who are murdered, most of them are sex workers and ‘trans migrants of colour’ (living in South America, I might add, whose countries have some of the highest murder rates in the world).
We also learnt that more of Shon’s ‘girlies in London have done sex work than haven’t’. The audience predictably tittered in response. Which lead me to wonder who may have slid into Shon’s DMs? Ew.
Shon was keen to draw attention to the fact that feminists had campaigned to overturn criminal convictions for those forced into prostitution, he was less keen on talking about why men murder prostitutes and the drug addiction nearly all prostituted people experience to escape the reality of their misery. In fact he didn’t even mention anything like it.
Shon’s position in the public sphere. Why does he prefer to be referred to as a political writer rather than an activist?
Shon feels there is a difference because he is actually paid to do his activism. (Activism is only real activism when it is unpaid, apparently.) Fortunately, I suppose, that conveniently means then the staff at Stonewall and the like aren’t really activists. He hopes that activists and future activists will use his book as a tool but ‘that’s not what I’m here to do’, proving that he thought us, his audience, idiots.
The other reason why he doesn’t like to be referred to as an activist, is because the phrase ‘trans activist’ has been co-opted and become a derogatory term, used to deride trans people in the public sphere. Really? I thought there were tons of trans people happy to describe themselves as trans activists. As mentioned earlier, he prefers the term ‘organiser’ now.
His final bug bear about the term was that everyone was describing themselves as an activist now, even if they just ran an Instagram account.
Major smoke-up-arse moment
‘You’re an incredibly prominent public figure,’ simpered Moya. Even Shon baulked a bit at that, laughing it off. ‘You are,’ she assured him and asked how he dealt with the pressure and pedestals. He wasn’t so phased though that he couldn’t answer the question.
Shon doesn’t want to become the most famous trans person in the UK media. Transphobes, i.e. anyone who opposes trans activism, were ‘unhinged’. Patriarchy was all about the individual and he believes that’s dangerous. He tries to only talk about the book when he does these gigs. The media had a tendency to elevate individuals as if they were representative of all trans people.
Hmm. Let’s think about that for a moment. There are plenty of trans activists in the media and it seems to me they are always presented as individuals. In recent times there has been Grace Lavery after he was banned from Twitter after joking about the Queen. Paris Lees has a column in British Vogue. That Emily Bridges bloke got a whole segment on ITN News, despite being a total non-entity. Fallon Fox was invited by the BBC to comment on women’s sports two weeks ago. And that’s just me thinking off the top of my head. There doesn’t appear to be any stereotyping, other than people noticing they are all batshit.
The importance of love in liberation
In the past Shon had embraced apathy feeling it was ‘cool’. In the book he wanted to emphasise the hope that things could change. What was very damaging though was having your hopes dashed. That’s why transphobia was so dangerous.
Hope is part of the human condition. Hope is like- it’s an expectation that you have a desire for being fulfilled. There are two components. The opposite of hope is having your expectations crushed and that parallels a lot with the damage [caused by] transphobia. I will just say that I think transphobia is like a (?)neo religion and its purpose is to destroy my expectations of how I should be treated, how I should see myself or other people should see me.Shon Faye on hope
Poor Shon. Can someone tell him that hope can also mean fantasy or unrealistic expectation?
Just like some student of Maoist brainwashing, Shon went onto tell us that he tries to make a connection with people when he speaks to them. He also makes an effort to ‘show up’ for things he isn’t directly affected by. These were examples of the ‘politics of connections’.
‘On that note, can we all give Shon a huge round of applause,’ asked Moya and the loony bin erupted. Honestly you would have thought an incredibly prominent figure was in the house.
Question and Answer with audience
Why is Terf Island, Terf Island?
That was the general gist of the question, certainly the phrase Terf Island was used (it’s real my terfen, they are forced into using our jokes).
Shon felt it was part of the British psyche and British colonialism and the denial of the same. Yawn. English feminism is quite chauvinistic, said Shon, a bit spitefully, and that ‘British transphobia is an extension of something more rotten’.
When did trans liberation as a possibility come to you?
So often trans people were just ‘accommodated’ as if they were a nuisance or as if you needed a diversity and inclusion course to talk to one, which drew laughter from the room. I wonder what the Stonewall bods did? They have spent the last five years persuading government and businesses that people need exactly that.
He suspected that many people had approached the book thinking it would be part memoir and he wasn’t keen on sharing his personal story of how he became a transvestic gay man (just joking, he didn’t say that).
You don’t want to know what’s going on in my head, he told us to laughter. Then he went all nasal and told us it wasn’t about the interior life, but about connections between political groups (unless those political groups didn’t agree with you). Trans people had lots of connections to make with other oppressed groups, given they were kicked out of their homes young and expected to do the same work for less money.
A round of applause for Shon’s dress
Someone in the audience complimented Shon on his outfit and he stood up while the room went nuts. #NotACult
What can the education system do to eradicate transphobia?
Shon talks about hate crime legislation in the book (yes he went there). Most transphobia and homophobia is perpetrated by young people and children against other young people (yes he went there). The way to combat this was to introduce ideas of ‘acceptance and diversity’ to children at a young age. Interventions against ‘gender-based violence’ could also be made in the school as well. There was also a huge bystander issue as well in educational settings (bystander training is essentially an element of education already).
Aunty makes a comment
‘I’ve been thinking a lot about elite media transphobia,’ Roz told the room, ‘and I think part of the issue is this: like other emancipated groups, trans people have gone through a period of being remarkably glamorous -‘
‘-Thank you,’ Shon lisped back, with perfect timing.
‘- and trans creativity is currently a real thing. And we will rebuke mediocrity of a largely hereditary media class, because we are the outsider coming in. It reminds me of the analogy “it cuts both ways”‘.
Shon agreed that trans people were flourishing in the arts but wasn’t able to explain how this fitted in with the overall narrative of systemic oppression he was selling.
What the fuck do we do about the propaganda against us?
Asked another veteran trans activist.
Rely on the politics of solidarity and allyship, said Shon, however this was getting harder. It couldn’t just be done over Twitter using hashtags, it had to be done in person and he encouraged people to pursue that.
Shon is not a very dynamic speaker. Thank god I had someone sitting next to me who couldn’t stop fidgeting, it was the only thing which kept me awake. Two notable things though: firstly, even an inconsequential choir singer is actually somehow famous in this world, by dint of the fact they are trans (whatever that is). Another example, Moya feeling the need to tell us and Shon that he was an ‘incredibly prominent figure’ – to who? Jolyon Maugham’s DM list? His recognisability boils down to just two groups, trans people and terfs.
Secondly, as always, Shon and his journalist interviewer were unable to explore any of the issues at a deeper level because this movement just cannot tolerate even a tiny drop of reality. Like, what are they gonna do in a room full of people taking cross sex hormones – start discussing the detrimental effects it has on organ function? Or DVTs? I don’t think so. As I left the building, I picked up a leaflet, offering free advice on how to transition, funded by a real charity. Yeah.
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