Political Transphobia Harms Trans People: LONG READ
Writing this I feel a pit in my stomach because lately I’ve seen an uptick of transphobia being hurled my way and towards my community. I pass like every trans person but like every trans person I get clocked (read as outed). I always seem to forget that the media, social media and the government can have such a huge influence in everyday society resulting in heightened abuse.
I remember how normalized bigoted behavior was in the past, and how it was inscribed into law, how people benefited from oppression. Especially if the society is naturally incline to fear us, to hate us and be confused by our existence.
I hate times like these and I hope I can articulate to you what I mean by that. The dynamics of boom and bust periods when it comes to my transness in public spaces.
Many factors come to play but I wanted to focus on politics which has an influence in all our lives especially, right now for trans people.
From gendered bathrooms debates
The current abhorrent legislation that opens trans people to medical discrimination.
In Britain it’s a leaked memo, from the current government, from wanting to protect single sex spaces to stalling, perhaps even scrapping the popular Gender Recognition Act Reforms
All around the world in places such as Poland, they continue to harm and politically erase trans and queer people.
Even well known public figures such J.K Rowling feeding into the cult of transphobia, especially the pervasive TERF culture here in Britain. And when all of this is happening in the media in the same time it can spell disaster. It can feel like trans people only exist for the sake of fear-mongering and deflecting from wider issues like the current Covid-19 pandemic and economic/social collapse.
Transness is seen, we all know this and with that hyper visibility, we are subject to violence. But most days because I pass this isn’t the case but let’s explore when it is.
To be honest when it comes to being trans, our transition is really at the mercy of a unforgiving public who during times like these, where bigotry is flying everywhere, they feel emboldened and are aware of trans people and our presence whereas before they wouldn’t acknowledge the nagging gender existentialist feelings they have of what a certain gender might look like. Therefore wanting to police it by standing in opposition to it whether covertly or overtly through their behaviour.
They would accept a wider spectrum of looks during times of peace and leave trans people alone. And, yes, I use the word peace because when it comes to oppression based on your identity in can feel like a war. If you think about it, it isn’t far fetch to say that since literal wars have happened based around other-ing.
I use the basis of how we look as trans people because this is the first and sometimes only thing that is weaponized against us. It’s no accident that a successful social or medical transition is to blend in.
Something a lot of trans people have had difficulties coming to terms with, and is a major reason why we face violence. We could be walking down the street and something like getting catcalled can become deadly when were clocked. We saw this in the case of Islan Nettles, a years back. Who was savagely beaten and died in hospital days later.
Why should you care? I mean trans people have some basic rights and your not a bigot you just don’t think it’s all that important.
A good case study for understanding how normalized transphobia can harm everyone, is with Athlete Caster Semenya a black, cis woman who has had abuse thrown at her and was disqualified by the IAAF, from competing against other cis gender women. Allowing her in only if she takes testosterone lowering medication. She didn’t fit the criteria of female based on her hormone level and features that people say is stereo-typically male. That gendered thinking harms everyone.
J.K Rowling, Her Influence and The Normalization of Bigoted “well meaning” Ideas
J.K Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, has recently came out with a shocking essay targeting transwomen. Which laid out her feelings about trans people and her feeling silenced for holding those views about us. It started with a flurry before becoming a storm, tweeting about her discomfort with the term “People who menstruate” — inclusive language that helps trans men and women and non-binary people who have periods.
You can even say that it started with her tweet supporting Maya Forstater who was fired from a think tank for tweeting a series of transphobic tweets about the Gender Recognition Act reforms, one even bluntly saying “Men cannot change into Women”.
J.K. Rowling, ending her tweet of support by saying “But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”.
A horrible tactic used by those who are “gender critical”. The tactic being bring up assigned sex to invalidate trans experiences and cause dysphoria. I always say that being trans is biological because we don’t choose to be trans just like we don’ t choose to be gay or lesbian. This makes you look at assigned sex differently. Sex is on a spectrum and I would love to see research on transness and sex in the future.
The Gender recognition Act reform have opened up a huge controversy but the bear bones of it rather tame. It was brought up by Theresa May’s government to keep it in line with the 2010 equalities act. The current act is very medicalised, bureaucratic, and a faceless, group of cis gatekeepers have to sign off, in order for you to change your gender marker. It also excludes non-binary people. It was progressive for it’s time but times change.
The reform’s consultation showed a overwhelming amount of people 70% (thanks impart to Stonewall U.K. pre-made form, which made the process accessible and easier) want to make the process more accessible and streamlined.
I bring up the GRA because it’s a trending topic not only for TERFS, transfolks and our allies but J.K. herself. It didn’t just stop at tweets, what brought the buzz was Joanne’s essay;
The essay in question is “TERF Wars”, and if the essay’s content wasn’t already bad. The timing of it was worse because at that time, the black lives matter protests and the topic of race were taking center stage. Also coming out with the text, during an already difficult political climate for trans people with the rise of politicians spouting “gender critical” ideas.
She knew exactly what she was doing. Her essay is now probably the most known piece of anti-trans text alongside the gross “Transsexual Empire: The Making of The She-Male” by bigot Janice Raymond. Claiming but ultimately failing to support us whilst in unison attacking every level of being trans.
Now before I go on, the sexual violence J.K. Rowling went through, which she documents is valid and deserves it’s own separate essay about how PTSD can affect survivors and how we treat survivors in society but instead she weaponizes it against transwomen.
J.K. Rowling is a bigot for a number of reasons, if you read the information she cites and engage with her in good faith, you can see she doesn’t care for tranness as an identity. She will use low hanging fruit like the dangers of trans medicalised transition and trans kids going on hormones. And of-course the classic detransitioners.
Then in the same breath she denounces inclusivity and de-gendering of all bodies, so basically existing as trans, full stop similar to that of the non-binary, self love movement were seeing. Which wants to challenge body dysphoria. After doing all that mental gymnastics, she jumps back and says that she’s literally against non-HRT and surgery transwomen (who are men in her eyes) self ID-ing on documents. Any information she provides or anything she says should always be looked at with carefully. As of writing this article, she cites a study that wreaks of bias that talks about society pressuring trans kids. The same society that can’t reconcile with the transness as a whole.
When it comes to her we should rightfully call the kettle black. Call her a bigot.
And as quick as the backlash came, we saw a huge wave of support for her, in thousands of likes on twitter, and emails of support from cis people who work with trans people. Which is a scary thought to think about.
Also people decrying supposed cancel culture with the hashtag # I stand with JK. After writing about her being transphobic and comparing her to artists that held damaging views about marginalized people, children’s newsite “The Day” apologized and was quoted saying.
“Debate about a complex issue where there is a range of legitimate views should have been handled with much more sensitivity and more obvious recognition of the difference between fact and opinion.”
And even, the cancelling in question is just social cancelling by individuals who disagree with her views, she says she feels attack forgetting that she has now created a toxic environment for trans folk.
Her and other public figures have even signed an open letter regarding cancelling.
J.K. Rowling being beloved in Britain and the creator of probably one of the most famous book series, of all time, has such a huge influence. We can see already her influence with a US republican senator using her essay. Who knows how her now infamous essay will be used in politics in the future. Already on the ground it feels antagonistic and connecting that with everything going on isn’t far-fetch.
Last year the Britain saw an 81% increase in hate crimes against trans people. Once upon a time when murders didn’t hold precedent, we now see they do with tragic deaths like Naomi Hersi. Who like me is a Somali transwoman, was murdered in a hotel room for the sin of being trans.
One thing I’ve noticed in my life is that people are more brash with their transphobia nowadays. It could be middle class people, giving me dirty, piercing looks, who probably joined the hashtag # OnlyFemalesGetCervicalCancer or when the backlash happened with # IStandWithJK .
Or it could be a group of young boys in my area that repeatedly call me sir because they know that misgendering triggers dysphoria. Nothing that happens online is insular and Britain’s sick complex of debating our existence is the reason why the sting of hate permeates.
We can’t forget the backdrop of the constant murder of black transwomen (and transwomen in general) as our lives becomes fodder in a political game.
Cruel murders that are so low on the totem pole that the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice; giving free rein to murderers, and the media misgendering us in death, and only just reporting on our murders, you have a recipe for sanctioned violence.
Sometimes our murders are blamed on us when it comes to intimate partner violence and our perceived failure to disclose our trans identity. The gay/trans panic defense in the USA shows the failure to protect us even in death. Under 10 states have banned it outright currently; And though controversial and outlawed in a few countries, it’s still used in some.
In the current year (as of writing this article) 2020, Covid-19 hasn’t stopped the violence. 4 black transwomen were murdered during US pride alone. and many more in the writing of this article (July). In nine days over two months 6 black trans women were killed.
The popular case of Muhlaysia Booker who before her death was brutally beaten on a $200 bet. We still see echoes of that with the case of Iyanna Dior who was beaten by cis black men whilst being filmed and mocked by everyone around her.
Sadly a hard thought to stomach is that more transwomen of colour will be murdered in the future. As the patterns show that no change, no worldwide or even national dialogue with real systemic change is being held. This is not okay and a horrible symptom of all of this transmisogyny.
The global south for instance, rarely report on our murders. The high number of trans people being murder in Brazil is terrifying especially when the population is so small. We also can’t forget about the Egyptian transwoman Malak al-Kashef who was arrested and possibly tortured for speaking on trans rights. Both countries and their surrounding neighbours have made it easier for us to be marginalized which equals to violence on the ground.
Along with certain European countries like Hungary ending gender recognition and identifying it as assigned sex, only. Poland, The UK, the US itself; Namely Donald Trump and his government want to roll back trans right, and make it harder for transwomen to use single sex spaces, and even access life saving services such as shelters. Even proposing; ignorantly that shelters check certain physical characteristics. Targeting poor and working class transwomen.
This hits closer to home as I have a friend who is trans and uses these services. This along with his ban on trans people in the military and taking away discrimination protection in the healthcare and making it harder to change your assigned sex. will have a ripple effect towards greater society. I mean why hide your bigotry when the government is allowing it.
It feels like we’re going backwards.
In the UK, where I live I’ve seen first hand the transphobia people hurl. I’ve been insulted, misgendered and had physical abuse inflicted on me by strangers and all that isn’t an island. Me being a black transwoman, my life expectancy is shortened.
We’ve been under a conservative government for a decade and even under New Labour (Tony Blair) they begrudgingly backed in 2004 and created the gross gender recognition act. Recently we saw Boris Johnson wanting to rollback trans rights by denying us the use of bathroom and spaces that fit our gender identity and wanting to keep the transphobia structures in the gender recognition act.
They are afraid of losing their power as men by validating chicks with dicks, if I can be informal for a sec. I mean history shows that the phallis (Penis) was and still is seen as a symbol of manhood and power.
Scrolling through social media I see others echo my feelings. feelings of not wanting to go outside, not feeling welcomed or desired, the constant fear that you might be killed or harmed. Your dysphoria being disregarded by everyone.
Being a black transwoman living day to day especially in this political climate is tough. Running errands, has been a form of protest. You actively shut yourself and it’s been noted that many trans people have agoraphobia or the fear of being outside because of transphobia and dysphoria that is exasperated by gendered society and left untreated.
I can’t tell you the amount of angry faces I saw, the amount of whispers and in the same day, I was verbally berated for the crime of being trans. And what baffled me was the fact that the person who did it was a femme queer person — homeless — shouting at me and proclaiming “that’s a man”. I hope that the last example shows you how insidious the transphobia in Britain is where a queer person can mimic what greater society says.
If we don’t 100% pass flawlessly they are angry but if we do and are outed in another way, they are angry. it’s literally the term “ignorance is bliss” manifested in real life.
And to say all that, what would life be for some that actively breaks gender norms? such as gender non-conforming people, who deal with abuse daily and constantly, not to mention how they would be treated during extremely hostile periods.
We need to examine the transphobia of people in influential position because it can have detrimental consequences onto people lives. But if they did champion us, they would be going against a society which they uphold. We shake the table as transfolk especially transwomen because we attack the very fibers of patriarchy, our existence shows everyone that just because you have a certain physiology (being trans is biological and sex is on a spectrum) that doesn’t mean that you have to settle for a role prescribed to you and that scares people because whole millennia were built on the backs of genitalia. People’s identities are wrapped up in their genitalia.
TERFS Ideology is Everywhere
Mermaids, a UK charity that helps gender diverse kids, has taken the initiative and conducted research on over 6000 articles pertaining trans adults and trans children. It’s really telling because only in Britain, do we platform so many people that hold transphobic views, and show up for these ideas. This isn’t an isolated issue. Britain has always had a very gender essentialist view on sex and gender, it birthed some of the modern understandings of it.
I want to start of by saying that there’s nothing feminist about being a TERF, (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) they are both a fringe community and a dangerously growing movement at the same time. Similar to that of the Alt-Right. Their branch of feminism is solely created to marginalize transwomen. To give an example organisations here in Britain, like “Fair Play for Women” and the ill named “A Women’s Place” have sprung up recently because of trans rights being won. Categorizing trans women specifically as abusive men.
TERF ideology was used in legislation historically, it’s nothing new. Before the Reagan administration, trans people could access government funded healthcare and be covered privately but ant-trans feminist arguments swayed opinion. In a report “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery” by bigot Janice Raymond who, I previously mentioned for her work specifically the TERF gospel “The Transsexual Empire”; Basically helping to re-construct trans medical care. Showing the very real dangers of political transphobia when it comes to things that affect trans people lives.
In 2018, here in the UK; Australian gender critical feminist, Sheila Jeffreys went before Parliament to say trans women “parasitically occupy” women (cis) bodies.
Her full quote “parasitically occupy the bodies of the oppressed”, as if trans women aren’t oppressed for being both women and trans. Her being invited and barely condemned; she was invited by bigot conservative politician David Davies is and still is abhorrent but common place here in Britain. And it connects nicely to the current stalling of the gender recognition act and leaked memo.
Ironically feminist, their obsession with reproductive organs (which lies on a spectrum) reduces cisgender women to their wombs and even though we as a society have moved past the moral shaming and the outright religious policing of cisgender women’s reproductive organs, we are still heavily based around patriarchy in the mainstream, sadly.
And that’s where they exist. They use what is now seen as socially conservative science that doesn’t evolve with new information and completely ignores the pattern of trans and intersex people existing.
Now, if TERFS were feminist, they wouldn’t be conservatives but largely they exhibit conservative talking points and occupy these spaces.
If they were real feminist, they would fighting for the destruction of patriarchy, the destruction of the family, the destruction of gender roles as we know it but instead they use the language of feminism to police transwomen who by just existing do the things that these so called feminist don’t.
TERFS or gender critical feminist which they like to call themselves have existed before trans rights were even considered, so the argument of them wanting to protect cisgender women, their identity and spaces is bullshit. They are rooted in the second wave feminist tradition of the 60’s and 70’s which is frankly outdated and reductive in today’s world but a lot of people can’t let go of their ideals especially boomers.
Any critique of their ideology is seen as upholding gendered stereotypes and gender itself, they seem forget that non-binary and gender non conforming people are trans and by their existence challenge gender as an institution. Even binary trans people having an active say in their identity, is in opposition of prescribed gender roles by birth.
TERFs are sadly using political transphobia to split feminist everywhere but they are losing ground when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community and modern intersectional feminist, also there are so many gender diverse people and different ways to see gender in the world today that we can’t all just go back into the closet and they know this.
Their patriarchal view on gender is limiting and therefore weaning. And even though they are the mainstream in our world today, their values are losing ground in activist spaces and their branch of feminism has been naturalized, ironically into conservative quarters that maybe somewhere in the future, their ideas on trans life will not hold any power in the left.
My personal opinions on TERF is that I don’t care if they want to hold a space for cis women only or even want to keep gendered language that excludes us. It’s only when they actively seek out to harm for transfolk in the political arena.
The destruction of political transphobia might be slow but with the supreme court win for queer and transfolk. Calvin Klein proudly showcasing and and validating a lesbian transwoman and the huge protest for black trans lives bringing in thousands in both the US and the UK.