We need to talk about Britain’s transphobia problem

Protesters hold banner saying 'Trans rights are human rights'
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We have a transphobia problem, and it’s getting worse. Not just because of the frequency with which it’s happening, or the form it’s taking, but because of the legitimacy it’s being given by large scale bodies, including – most recently – by the BBC.

As a trans person, I’ve experienced hate speech and threats of violence and I’ve feared for my safety. I have lived with the stares from strangers and the scary indecision of which public toilet I’m going to get the least harassment in. And as a trans man, I have it so much easier than my trans sisters who are so much more likely to experience violence and abuse.

But even with all this that we face daily, I can see my community being scared and exhausted from a different kind of abuse. It’s one that’s much harder to pinpoint and has a much wider reach – the insidious propaganda that’s creating a hateful, false narrative about us.

Twisted words and a tapestry of lies

As someone who’s experienced emotional abuse, it feels like being gaslit but on a national scale. Just like being manipulated by someone in your life, you end up not knowing which way is up. It’s painful and disorientating when someone you think you can trust – in this case mainstream media – is telling you seemingly reasonable things that make it hard to speak your own truth without having the words twisted.

The truthfulness of what’s being reported aside, the intent behind it is to build an untrue narrative. To make a story that uses small truths told in untrue quantities to make a large, terrifying lie in which you are the villain to their victim.

Eventually the tapestry they weave is so complete and thorough that it hangs in between the truth and anyone seeking it. Any attempt at finding the real shape of things is obstructed by false narratives. This is doubly hard when the conversations are happening in bitesize tweets and sensational stories where nuance is lost and the most extreme views get re-shared.

Baseless arguments

This is what’s happening in the UK today with waves of transphobia coming from a small but vocal group of people. The truth is that trans people exist. We have existed forever and we are just as wonderful and diverse as the cisgender population. But what this group of people would have you believe is that trans people are a new phenomenon and that we are inherently predatory, perverted, and looking to recruit your innocent children.

Read on...

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And so feeding into this narrative the BBC has published an article about trans women being rapists. Using a poll conducted by a known anti-trans organisation with a small sample of respondents from their echo-chamber of social media followers, the publicly-funded and supposedly neutral BBC has presented a flimsy argument that trans women are a threat to cisgender lesbians.

I grew up with the BBC being seen as a trusted news source, so for me it feels like a friend siding with your abuser and giving legitimacy to their abuse. The truth feels even harder to explain when hateful sentiment is dressed as a reasonable narrative; when the framing of the hatred is that of false concern for another marginalised group.

Grotesquely misshapen

I once heard that being in a relationship with a narcissist is like being arrested – everything you say can be used against you. That’s what it feels like here. A subtle conversation about gender and sexuality has been taken and twisted to be a narrative that trans people are trying to force people to have sex with them. And this is one of many things that have been twisted, manipulated, and grotesquely misshapen.

We assume that we are always moving forward and becoming more progressive, but that just isn’t the case at the moment especially when it comes to anti-trans sentiment. The language used is so reminiscent of how tabloids wrote about gay people in the 80s that once you see the similarity it’s almost laughable we’d be going through this again so soon, but here we are.

A growing movement of hate

What’s so scary about this new transphobic trend is just how much it’s growing. We, as trans people, have been fighting tooth and nail for basic rights. And with every tiny movement forward our efforts are met with such fury that we dared step out of line that we are pushed even further back. Each time it happens, this vocal group of transphobes gets new recruits who have heard their battle cry of how we’re harming women and children. And with the sensational stories they create, they get new places to publish their hateful narrative.

While the transphobes get more powerful and gain bigger platforms, my community is getting more and more exhausted. This isn’t just an online moral panic for us; this is our everyday, and it’s everywhere we turn. Despite carefully curating my social media to be as positive as possible, their hatred still seeps through. I have anxiety at the thought of the comments section and of course I avoid the tabloids, but now I daren’t even read the BBC News.

Featured image via Ted Eytan

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  • Show Comments
    1. There is no doubt the trans community is at war with the far right media, join the gang
      Every dirty trick and wall to wall propaganda has been deployed by the haters, its what they do to protect their corporate interests
      All you can do is take advantage of the publicity to get your case across, take responsibility for the abusers in your own ranks and keep on keeping on
      Your day will come and the haters will move on to the next community

    2. Excuse me, but I have no idea what a trans person is? Can someone explain to me what it actually is to be trans person?
      I really don’t understand how you can have the genitalia of one sex but think you are another? Or none at all?
      I have been a female for 64 years and every time I look in a mirror I am still a woman with the body attributes of a woman both inside and outside. I have given birth to a child. So there is no doubt everything is in working order.
      I have got used to being a woman after all this time and see no need to pretend to be a man.
      So can someone please explain, what have I missed? If a man wears a dress that doesn’t make him a woman, it makes him an actor in a pantomime or a comedy show doesn’t it?
      I don’t understand how can your brain think you are something biology shows you are not?
      I am at a loss to understand, please explain it too me.
      Thank you x

    3. Those are good questions, Caz.
      I would add a question about what rights men and women of my generation, all in our 70s now, have enjoyed which are not enjoyed by “trans” people. I was puzzled by an accusation from e.g. David Lammy MP, that women have been “hoarding rights” in some way. An explanation of that would be most helpful.
      Finally, if “trans” people have existed “forever”, why the sudden need to invent new words like “cisgender” (which should be as old as “trans”), “deadnaming”, “misgendering”, and possibly others.
      Some concise answers would be greatly appreciated.

    4. I’m going to assume these questions aren’t meant as bait and do my best to answer them as more of a media expert than a gender one. For the latter, Judith Butler is a good starting point and there are plenty of summaries/explanations of her work online.

      Also, I’m an ally, so I’m not speaking as much from personal experience either, though the more educated I become, the more courageously neutral I present.
      First, we need to agree a couple of definitions for the sake of clarity in this context, if not perfect or complete:
      Sex – your anatomy.
      Gender – a set of behaviours coded by society to manage expectations.
      Sexuality – the general or nuanced desire for intimacy based on a combination of sex, gender and other social influences.

      Secondly – just because the words are new, it doesn’t mean the human experience they describe is new.
      So let’s talk about sex and gender.
      Having a functional penis or womb doesn’t determine your personality any more than your star sign or skin colour.
      The language is intimidating if it’s coming at your worldview in a landslide but it’s empowering for people who don’t conform to the “valid human experience” dictated by the increasingly disconnected power structures of society. You can make the same case for neurodivergents who have also always been here.

      I don’t know about MPs comments but my suspicion is that he is upset rich white guys only have most of the power now. (Family Guy is relevant political commentary)
      This isn’t a short comment but I’ve tried to be concise, so I’ve missed things and I’ve avoided the nature/nurture debate because public discourse and social conditioning are too complex to reduce to that.
      If you’re going to educate yourself, please read/watch/listen to professionals and not just random people on the internet.

      Thanks 🙂

      1. Hello Ben, thank you for your comment.

        They are genuine questions as I am struggling to understand it all.
        I can truthfully say that when I saw a picture of the author of the article with a shaved head and a beard, I would be terrified if I was using a women’s toilet and came out of a toilet cubicle to be faced with a man wearing a beard. My immediate reaction would be to scream my head off.
        You would certainly not be welcome as a man, in any ladies toilet I was in.
        The basic problem is this women need to remove their lower half of their clothing in order to pee, whereas men don’t. Also Women help small children of both sexes when children are being toilet trained. Is it appropriate for small girls to witness a row of adult men urinating in a Men’s toilet ? I think not. Whereas an older Mother/ Grandmother such as myself would have no problem helping someone else’s children wash and dry their hands ‘while Mummy has a wee wee’ on her own for a change.
        Without women helping each other, with the task of child rearing their will be no children to become the next generation.

        So in order for the human species to continue, the trans people have to rely on the heterosexual population to provide any children in the future. Have the trans people considered that basic biological fact? They will be the one generation of infertile humans.

        I will try to understand by listening to Judith Butler, but I cannot watch Family Guy as it just comes over as infantile to me, more of a study of the lowering of the intelligence of the American population, which I have witnessed for myself during visits to America over the last 30 years.

        With age comes wisdom, so be careful what you wish for. There are so many humans desperate to have a child otherwise there would not be fertility clinics.

        I know all the trans people feel they want to have a voice, but shouting so loudly using words most of the population don’t understand is not going to help.
        Just please stop using tools in education to skew the argument. Let children grow and decide when they are adults and let them find their own niche in life. Puberty brings a whole host of hormonal changes which should not be tampered with.

        Our whole society is structured around generations and child rearing the next one, so please let us just all be equal instead, and more importantly happy and content which the mental state we all want to be in.
        Best Wishes everyone. x

      2. I‘ve been waiting for someone to answer the straight questions from other folk about how one becomes “trans”, and about women’s safe-spaces, before writing again, but all I hear is silence. I find it interesting that, in the context of a request for discussion (“we need to talk”) which normally involves questions and answers, you expressed concern that some questions might have been intended as “bait”.

        I‘ve seen statements elsewhere that people should “educate” themselves, but we should be able articulate our own beliefs in a way that others can understand. I recall being told by Christians that we shouldn’t be concerned about doubts, we should “have faith and read the bible” which allegedly contains all the answers, so maybe that’s a parallel situation.
        As an aside, I expect we all remember the claim that “Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism”. That alleged problem seemed to start and end with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, and even included some Jewish people being accused of anti-Semitism. Perhaps we’re expected to believe in co-incidence, but I don’t. No, I don’t see a connection with that smear (and I’ve never been a member of the Labour Party), I just note that we’re now being asked to believe that “Britain has a transphobia problem”.
        Amongst other previous situations we might refer to are the Cultural Revolution in China and the cult of Scientology (both 1960s), as well as False Memory Syndrome” (1990s).

        However, to take a step back to the initial post by Jacob Stokoe saying that “we need to talk about Britain’s transphobia problem”, and complaining about “propaganda that’s creating a false narrative”, I would like to see evidence of those alleged attacks on trans people. All that is cited is one recent podcast series on the BBC. As for attacks, we have evidence in the public domain of trans- activists and allies attempting to silence their critics, to the extent of seeking their dismissal from employment on the basis of the critic’s opinions. So, we might ask who is doing the attacking.

        I am old enough to have been politically active when, about sixty years ago, some feminists were shouting “all men are rapists”, but you don’t have to be old to recognise other illogical, irrational slogans such as “trans women are women”.

        You write: “coming at your worldview in a landslide”, but the only such landslide I’ve seen recently has been coming from the trans community online, in claiming to be victims. Can someone please provide evidence of that victimhood? By the way, if you think there’s a landslide coming, it might be wise to consider how secure your position is. The tactic of accusing an opponent of doing what you are doing, is an old one in politics.
        For some reason, you write: “random people on the internet”, but I can assure you I have always read widely, including your suggestion of gender-theorist Judith Butler. Yes, other authors are available.

        You also write: “the more educated I become the more courageously neutral I present”, but you also describe yourself as an ally (i.e. a supporter) so your presenting as neutral looks like a decision to pretend you’re on the fence rather than admit that you’ve come to a conclusion and picked a side. A bit like having one foot on the fence and the other on the ground. Neutrality is not necessarily courageous, and it can be the opposite.

        For my part, having started from a position of neutrality, after reading and discussion I have become increasingly sceptical about trans-ideology. The first awareness I had of the issue was in hearing “Transphobe” and “Terf” being used aggressively as terms of abuse aimed usually against women who did not share the ideology, or who simply raised questions. Incidentally, I’m interested in the use of the word “phobia”, which is normally applied to people who are scared of spiders or of water or of going outside. Inventing new words was, I think, a feature of the cult of Scientology, and trans-ideology has followed suit. Link here: https://www.lgbtqiahealtheducation.org/wp-content/uploads/Handout_7-C_Glossary_of_Gender_and_Transgender_Terms__fi.pdf

        I agree that gender is socially constructed, but I don’t understand the idea that it’s there for the purpose of managing expectations. I do not see whose expectations are supposedly being managed. Yes, it’s a social construct. All groups have those. It’s no big deal. It helps the group function as a group, no matter the size.

        My Collins 2006 dictionary defines gender as “the state of being male, female, or neuter” (as well as the classification of nouns in certain languages as being male, female or neuter). I know some people are convinced that gender is complicated, but that is their opinion, not mine.

        Now, I hear a claim that there are more than 100 different genders, which means that someone is keeping a tally. Can we please see a list of all those genders, with a brief definition of each? I’m reminded of an old biblical saying about people arguing over how many camels can dance on the head of a pin, but we have the modern context of widespread poverty, here and abroad, and climate-change which will affect the survival of the human race, and some people are counting genders!

        The choice by some politicians and others to dismiss women’s concerns about safe spaces, demonstrates a bizarre lack of concern for other people. Not much kindness there. We are told that trans people do not have the same rights as everyone else, but I do not understand what rights I and my sister have which trans people do not have. That should be easily explained.

        If (as is claimed) trans people have been around forever, or at least for a long time (and that it’s not about sexual attraction) can someone please show us early references in literature? What about The Bible, the Quran, the Talmud Torah?

        Finally, you write: “people who don’t conform to the “valid human experience dictated by the increasingly disconnected power structures of society.” Sorry, I don’t follow that. With respect, I have to say that it reads like something which might have found a place in Pseud’s Corner in Private Eye.

        Yes, people who are neurodivergent have always been in society, but neurodivergent people are not claiming to have been “born in the wrong body” and therefore entitled to change their body to conform with a sex-stereotype of their choosing. With respect, I do not agree that neurodivergence is a valid comparison. It is an umbrella word for a variety of related terms which themselves are much older.

        That MP was not the only person publicly accusing women of “hoarding rights”. I used his name as an example. As above in relation to historic references in literature, it would be good to read evidence of hoarding, if it exists. Otherwise, what I’m seeing looks a bit like candyfloss. i.e. a wee bit of sugar and a lot of air, but no substance. That “hoarding” slogan seems to have faded from the media. Having no substance will have contributed to its fate.

        Kind regards.

    5. If a male (someone with a Y chromosome and corresponding anatomy) wants to behave and be treated as a female then that is their business. However, the issue arises when they wish to enter women-only spaces or e.g. female sports. It is dishonest to label opposition to this as transphobia. Women-only spaces and women-only sports are provided for perfectly reasonable reasons, which include their safety.

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