Shon Faye (born 27 March 1988) is an English writer, editor, journalist, and presenter, known for her commentary on LGBTQ+, women's, and mental health issues. She hosts the podcast Call Me Mother and is the author of the 2021 book The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice.

It is only through solidarity, compassion and radical reimagining that we can build a more just and joyful world for all of us.
Hope is part of the human condition and trans people’s hope is our proof that we are fully human. We are not an ‘issue’ to be debated and derided. We are symbols of hope for many non-trans people, too, who see in our lives the possibility of living more fully and freely. That is why some people hate us: they are frightened by the gleaming opulence of our freedom. Our existence enriches this world.

Quotes edit

The Transgender Issue (2021) edit

The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice. Allen Lane. 2021. ISBN 978-0-241-42314-1. 

Prologue edit

  • The liberation of trans people would improve the lives of everyone in our society. I say 'liberation' because I believe that the humbler goals of 'trans rights' or 'trans equality' are insufficient. Trans people should not aspire to be equals in a world that remains both capitalist and patriarchal and which exploits and degrades those who live in it. Rather, we ought to seek justice – for ourselves and others alike. Trans people have endured over a century of injustice. We have been discriminated against, pathologized and victimized. Our full emancipation will only be achieved if we can imagine a society that is completely transformed from the one in which we live.
  • The demand for true trans liberation echoes and overlaps with the demands of workers, socialists, feminists, anti-racists and queer people. They are radical demands, in that they go to the root of what our society is and what it could be. For this reason, the existence of trans people is a source of constant anxiety for many who are either invested in the status quo or fearful about what would replace it. In order to neutralize the potential threat to social norms posed by trans people's existence, the establishment has always sought to confine and curtail their freedom. In twenty-first-century Britain, this has been achieved in large part by belittling our political needs and turning them into a culture war 'issue'. Typically, trans people are lumped together as 'the transgender issue', dismissing and erasing the complexity of trans lives, reducing them to a set of stereotypes on which various social anxieties can be brought to bear. By and large, the transgender issue is seen as a 'toxic debate', a 'difficult topic' chewed over (usually by people who are not trans themselves) on television shows, in newspaper opinion pieces and in university philosophy departments. Actual trans people are rarely to be seen.
  • ‘Trans’ [...] is an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity (their personal sense of their own gender) varies from, does not sit comfortably with, or is different from, the biological sex recorded on their birth certificate based on the appearance of their external genitalia. The standard view of how sex and gender manifest in the world is as follows. Babies born with observable penises are recorded as male, referred to and raised as boys, and as adults are men; babies born with observable vulvas are recorded as female, referred to and raised as girls, and as adults are women. To be trans is, on some level, to feel that this standardized relationship between one’s genitalia at birth and the assignment of one of two fixed gender identities that are supposed to accurately reflect your feelings about your own body has been interrupted. How the person who experiences this interruption reacts to it can vary hugely – which is why ‘trans’ is a catch-all word for a diverse range of identities and experiences.
  • When we talk about trans people, we’re usually referring to individuals who were either recorded as male at birth but who understand themselves to be women (trans women) or, vice versa, were recorded as female at birth but who understand themselves to be men (trans men). Not all trans people, however, find simply moving between the pre-existing categories of man and woman satisfactory, accurate or desirable. Such trans people, who are less well understood, generally unsettle mainstream society more than trans men and women, because they challenge not only the prevailing idea that birth genitals and gender are inseparable, but also the idea that there are just two gender categories. Often, these people are accused of making up their experience out of a need for attention or a desire to feel special – though in reality the political, economic and social costs for such ‘non-binary’ trans people (who don’t straightforwardly see themselves as men or women) can be immense.

Introduction edit

  • Suicide attempts occur at a higher rate among trans people than the general population. Indeed, the statistics are truly alarming: research by the UK charity Stonewall published in 2017 found that 45 per cent of trans young people had attempted suicide at least once. Yet, behind the statistics are individuals, suffering in private and leading complex human lives: there is rarely one simple explanation for such a tragedy.
  • In the final months of her life, when she must have been experiencing a degree of mental anguish, Lucy Meadows was bullied, harassed, ridiculed and demonized by the British media. Her death remains one of the darkest chapters in the British trans community’s history, and one of the most shameful episodes in the long and shameful history of the British tabloid press. Even if she was struggling in other ways, Meadows had not been a public figure or a celebrity, nor had she ever sought to be. She had wrestled privately with gender for many years, and her decision to transition was, by all accounts, not taken lightly. All she had done was to be trans and to be honest about who she was, continuing with a job she had been good at in a school that supported her. Her story was not remotely in the public interest. At the inquest into her death, the coroner, Michael Singleton, stated that the media should be ashamed of their treatment of Meadows. Summing up his verdict, Singleton turned to the assembled press in the court gallery and told them, ‘Shame on all of you.’
  • By the end of the 2010s, trans people weren’t the occasional freak show in the pages of a red-top tabloid. Rather, we were in the headlines of almost every major newspaper every single day. We were no longer portrayed as the ridiculous but unthreatening provincial mechanic who was having a ‘sex swap’; now, we were depicted as the proponents of a powerful new ‘ideology’ that was capturing institutions and dominating public life. No longer something to be jeered at, we were instead something to be feared. Soon after the Lucy Meadows inquest, that fleeting opportunity to shed light on the bullying of trans people evaporated. In the intervening years, the press flipped the narrative: it was trans people who were the bullies.
  • The media agenda with respect to ‘the transgender issue’ is often cynical and unhelpful to the cause of trans justice and liberation. Media coverage of the trans community rarely seems to be driven by a desire to inform and educate the public about the actual issues and challenges facing a group who – as all evidence indicates – are likely to experience severe discrimination throughout their lives. Today, the typical news item on trans people features a debate between a trans advocate on one side and a person with ‘concerns’ on the other – as if both parties were equally affected by the discussion. As trans people face a broken healthcare system – which in turn leaves them with a desperate lack of support both with their gender and the mental health impacts of the all-too-commonly associated problems of family rejection, bullying, homelessness and unemployment – trans people with any kind of platform or access have tried to focus media reporting on these issues, to no avail. Instead, we are invited on television to debate whether trans people should be allowed to use public toilets. Trans people have been dehumanized, reduced to a talking point or conceptual problem: an ‘issue’ to be discussed and debated endlessly. It turns out that when the media want to talk about trans issues, it means they want to talk about their issues with us, not the challenges facing us.
  • Human beings rely on familiarity to understand and empathize with others, and we find it easier to extend compassion to those we can relate to. Given that, like any minority, trans people are unfamiliar to the average person, we rely more heavily on media representation, on political solidarity from people who aren’t trans and vocal, and ongoing support from public institutions to create the right conditions for understanding and compassion from the rest of society. By the same token, we’re especially vulnerable to the spread of misinformation, harmful stereotypes and repeated prejudicial tropes. And the latter, unfortunately, are widespread in public culture, just as they have been throughout history. Trans people are discriminated against, harassed and subjected to violence around the world because of deep prejudices that have been embedded into the fabric of our culture, poisoning our capacity to empathize, and even to accept trans people as fully human.
  • It is only through solidarity, compassion and radical reimagining that we can build a more just and joyful world for all of us.

Chapter One edit

  • While the media seems all too happy to focus on trans children’s right to participate in activities alongside their peers (or, indeed, on trans children’s very existence), there is little coverage of one of the most pressing problems: the fact that they are significantly more likely to experience discrimination, harassment and violence at home or at school. Sometimes, horrific stories hit local news headlines, such as the trans teenage boy whose face was slashed by a gang of teenagers in Witham, Essex, or the eleven-year-old trans girl in Manchester who, after months of bullying, was shot with a BB gun at school. To date, though, the national media has more or less completely failed to explore the ways in which such egregious incidents form part of a wider pattern of abuse of trans children.
  • It is the adult world, though, that instils and nurtures prejudice.
  • The shadow of Section 28 fell heavily: the effect of suppressing education about LGBTQ+ issues was not only to prevent LGBTQ+ children existing openly at school but, just as perniciously, to create a culture of silence that allowed prejudice among kids and staff alike to flourish unchallenged. Queer young people, for their part, were forced to internalize a constant drip-feed of humiliation, often (like me) not wanting to speak out for fear of making a horrible situation even worse. Having to absorb such humiliation in childhood is, unsurprisingly, something associated with a range of negative mental health outcomes later in life. Section 28 must be remembered and condemned for what it was: a staggering dereliction of duty on behalf of Britain’s policymakers towards the country’s young people.
  • Everyone’s got their own battles to fight.
  • Family rejection and estrangement have devastating long-term health implications. They also have a material impact. For some kids, the only option is leaving home. Others have no option at all: their parents kick them out. As a result, trans teenagers and young adults in Britain are much more likely to experience homelessness than their cisgender peers. [...] A minority within a minority, trans young people are disproportionately over-represented in the homeless population: one in four trans people have experienced homelessness.
  • In the media, much of the focus on ‘trans rights’ in recent years has been on legislative rights (such as streamlining the process for legal gender recognition or having a gender-neutral passport), and on social conduct, such as checking a person’s pronouns. This emphasis stems in part from a media agenda set by cisgender people, often – as we’ve seen – for the purposes of creating controversy and fuelling a culture war. As a result, like many movements formed around an aspect of personal identity, class politics and a broader critique of capitalism have become sidelined in the trans movement. Besides the time and energy trans people have to spend defending civil rights and social courtesies, there’s a pretty straightforward reason for this. In any minority group, those who have the time, resources and political access to lead the charge for recognition and better treatment tend to be the middle-class members, who don’t appreciate the urgent issues of poverty and homelessness that for many can impede participation in activist movements. This representational imbalance leads to ‘single issue’ priorities, which emphasize the personal freedoms of the individual over the economic liberation of the entire minority group. Trans politics is no different. Poverty and homelessness are rarely framed as ‘trans issues’ in the media – or even by large LGBTQ+ lobby groups.
  • Many homeless trans people stay off the streets by ‘sofa surfing’: either staying with friends or, in some cases, exchanging sex for a place to stay. Inevitably, some end up sleeping rough. For trans people on the streets, life can be brutal.
  • Ending homelessness is an important political goal for society as a whole; it is especially important for trans people.
  • Conversations around domestic abuse and the dwindling provision for survivors usually focus on the most common scenario: heterosexual couples with a (cisgender) male perpetrator and a (cisgender) female survivor. Yet trans people face extraordinarily high rates of domestic abuse at the hands of their partners.
  • Trans people may have relationships with cisgender people or other trans people, and date men, women or non-binary people. This reality is not often represented in mainstream media, with the result that lots of trans people are led to believe that transitioning may mean the end of their love life. At one point, I was one of the many trans people who believed, incorrectly, that I would be fundamentally unlovable to anyone who knew I was assigned a different gender at birth. While I soon learned that this wasn’t the case, I also realized – as a trans woman who onlydated men – that there were men out there who could simultaneously be attracted to me and also be abusive. This was particularly apparent on dating apps, where I was always open about being trans. If men initiated messaging and I declined their advances, it was not uncommon to receive a torrent of misogynist and transphobic abuse. Online, you can simply block a stranger who exhibits such malicious behaviour. Real-life domestic abuse, however, is often insidious and incremental, with the abuser creating a sense of dependence in the abused while eroding their self-esteem. The negative messages trans people receive from society about their bodies, their desirability as partners, and their worth as individuals can make them especially susceptible to emotional, sexual and physical abuse by partners.
  • The reality of trans life today is often hidden from public view.
  • In all this, it cannot be emphasized enough that the political demands of trans people align with those of disabled people, migrants, people with mental illnesses, LGB people and ethnic minorities (and, needless to say, trans people can be found within all of these groups). This overlap between the needs of different marginalized people must be stressed because the illusion that trans people’s concerns are niche and highly complex is often a way to disempower them. The emphasis on the ‘minority’ status of minorities keeps them focused on explaining their difference in public discourse, so that they can be continuously batted away as an aberration or minor concern. In the specific case of trans people, this disempowerment begins at the most fundamental level: with our bodies and our right to exercise autonomy over them without interference by society. If we are to liberate all trans people socially, we must begin with the liberation of the physical trans body.

Chapter Two edit

  • First, one of the most important – and, for many, confusing – questions: why do some trans people need medical intervention at all? Dysphoria, the antonym of ‘euphoria’, is the clinical term now used to describe the intense feeling of anxiety, distress or unhappiness some trans people feel in relation to their primary sex characteristics (genitals), their secondary sex characteristics (breasts, facial hair, menstruation, face shape, voice) or how these physical traits cause society to interact with them, by perceiving them as a male or female. Previously called ‘gender identity disorder’ and, before that, ‘transsexualism’, gender dysphoria is the name given to an experience many trans people struggle with, which can be helped by medical intervention. Although the term is widely used within the community, different trans people can experience dysphoria in very different ways, and so might have different clinical needs.
  • Gender dysphoria is a rare experience in society as a whole, affecting about 0.4 per cent of the population, which can make it hard to explain to the vast majority of people, who have not experienced it. To get around this, we often rely on metaphors. The clumsy phrase ‘born in the wrong body’ has become the favoured soundbite in popular media. Clumsy because – and this must be stressed – many trans people do not think this describes dysphoria at all well. To my mind, the trans writer Andrea Long Chu expresses it more accurately: ‘Dysphoria,’ she says, ‘can feel like heartbreak.’ Heartbreak, its incapacitating grief and the sense of absence and loss which activate the same parts of the brain as physical pain, can be so all-consuming it interferes with your everyday life. So, too, dysphoria. For me, at least, this is a much richer way of describing how many trans people experience distress with their bodies – indeed, how I felt until I medically transitioned.
  • Dysphoria, it should be said, is not a precondition of being trans. According to some research, as many as 10 per cent of those who positively identify as trans men, trans women, non-binary people and various other terms do so without any feelings of dysphoria. It is sometimes incorrectly assumed that trans men and women experience dysphoria and non-binary people do not, when in fact some non-binary people feel themselves to be in great need of medical assistance, and some trans men and women seek none at all. Nevertheless, most trans people experience dysphoria to some degree.
  • For those who need them, medical transition and contraception or abortion are – or should be – about the bodily autonomy of the individual, their right to mental well-being and the freedom to carve out their own destiny in defiance of prevailing gender roles. (These roles, should we need reminding, frame women as vessels for reproduction and trans people as threats to the strict separation of male and female sex roles on which patriarchy depends.) Access to abortion and access to trans healthcare are often attacked in similar ways: principally by overstating the incidence and likelihood of regretting either process, and an intense, disproportionate focus in the media on the stories of individuals who do regret their personal choices, as a way to undermine the principle of choice generally. Only about 5 per cent of women experience any degree of regret over their abortion. Multiple studies show the regret rate for gender reassignment surgery is even lower: about 0–2 per cent. Despite this, the fear of regret has become a powerful tool used to justify the delay or withholding of treatment. Little wonder, then, that it is conservative politicians who attack trans healthcare and women’s reproductive rights in the same breath.
  • What we choose to define (and stigmatize) as ‘mental illness’ is itself a matter of politics. For instance, our perception of homosexuality as an identity instead of a disorder is a relatively recent development, made possible by decades of campaigning to depathologize it.
  • Both trans and cis patients alike have good reason to fear the increasing NHS reliance on the private sector, which drives up costs and introduces a profit motive to healthcare, including gender identity services and surgeries. There is an irony here: it is generally conservatives who make specious claims about money-making schemes preying on trans people, but, in fact, it is conservatives’ own policies of cuts and privatization that actually allow the private sector to behave vampirically.
  • Historical accounts of gender-variant people who lived in a social role different from the one assigned to them at birth occur in almost every recorded human culture. Sometimes, they lived their lives with the encouragement and licence of their community, which recognized the existence of a third gender – or even several other genders – beyond man and woman; sometimes, their perceived ‘transgression’ of gender norms was understood to merit punishment.
  • The same hormone therapies that today are associated with helping trans people – the use of feminizing oestrogen for trans women and masculinizing testosterone for trans men – were used by endocrinologists in the middle decades of the twentieth century in attempts to ‘cure’ sexual inverts and intersex individuals, by administering hormones to ‘remedy’ the imbalance which caused their ‘disorder’. Homosexual females, for instance, would be treated with oestrogen. Homosexual males were sometimes treated with testosterone and, in some cases, with oestrogen in order to chemically castrate them and prevent them acting on their desires. In the 1950s such hormonal ‘cures’ for sexual and gender variance diminished (largely because they didn’t work), only to be replaced by psychiatric and aversion therapies – the underlying belief in sexual inversion and disorder remained. It must be stressed that the non-consensual, coercive and violent use of hormones to interfere with the bodily integrity of LGBTQ+ people and those born with intersex conditions destroyed countless lives and should be considered a stain on the history of Western medicine. This shared historical experience is also a point of unity for trans people and cisgender lesbians, gays and bisexuals, demonstrating our shared struggle against our pathologizing and mistreatment over the past century and more.
  • Given the British media’s recent pained wrangling with the very idea of gender affirmation as a potential ‘slippery slope’, the fact that more straightforward access to medical transition and legal gender recognition was available during the Second World War than is often the case today is astonishing. The mainstream media’s presumption that strict ‘controls’ on transition are and have always been necessary relies on the suppression, and ignorance, of trans medical and legal history.
  • It is important to realize that the framing of trans people as ‘parodies’ who reinforce stereotypes cruelly disregards the ways in which those same British trans people – whose gender expression, dress, hairstyles, makeup preferences and so on have, it clearly needs to be said, always varied as much as their cisgender counterparts’ – have spent the past fifty years being coerced into narrow gender conformity by their doctors, then mocked and derided as too stereotypical and regressive by cis onlookers. If it sounds like a catch-22, it’s because it is.
  • Trans healthcare, then, is part of a wider political struggle for bodily autonomy that women, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people and ethnic minorities have all been fighting – a struggle that intensified during the decade of austerity that was the 2010s. This political struggle has primarily focused on trans adults, growing societal awareness of whom has allowed for more robust advocacy and rebuttal of the myths about medical transition. Even transphobes and reactionaries in the media and in politics, uneasy and disapproving though they remain, have come to begrudgingly tolerate adult medical transition as a matter of personal autonomy. After all, as trans people have successfully argued, adults are entitled to do whatever they want with their own bodies.
  • Trans healthcare must be revolutionized urgently: it was created not to help us but to conceal that which is unpalatable to cisgender people and to erase the implications of our existence for the rest of society. That is why we were not permitted families in so many cultures and why authoritarian governments always attack our access to care. Yet in this we are not unique. Cisgender women, disabled people, fat people, black people, HIV-positive people and trans people are all groups that experience high degrees of medical discrimination and abuse, historically and currently. Our struggle is, then, a shared one – and it should not be left to us alone. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic especially, the 2020s and beyond will see us all struggle in a new era of recession and growing social conservatism about who deserves healthcare investment. This is a daunting, frightening time, but solidarity between all of us who are pushed to the margins may yield new health activist movements and resistance.

Chapter Three edit

  • In general, trans people are more likely to have lower incomes and to experience poverty than the wider population. [...] Prejudice persists. It is not just a personal affront, but an economic reality that shapes and limits trans lives.
  • The experience of being trans is shaped by social class. While there are middle-class trans people, the vast majority are working class – just as the vast majority of the total population is working class. Trans workers are often employed in lower paid and more precarious jobs, with a high risk of discrimination and bullying in the workplace. As a result, trans political struggle is part of a wider class struggle. Despite this, trans politics is commonly misrepresented as coddled, bourgeois and anti-working class.
  • To be trans is an experience bound up with economic struggle. There cannot be one without the other.
  • A key tenet of the drive by trans people towards ‘visibility’ in mainstream media in the past decade has been the belief that, the greater amount of more accurate media coverage, the more chance trans people have of encouraging empathy in the wider population. This, it is hoped, will make people want to treat trans individuals better both in daily life and in policy. This strategy hasn’t worked – or, at least, it hasn’t worked sufficiently to materially improve the lives of the majority of trans people. The problem is that it involves a rose-tinted view of the media, which is imagined as some kind of benevolent megaphone, which amplifies our voices, uncovers truth and educates. This is an apolitical understanding of the raison d’être of the media in a capitalist society, which – as for any other industry – is first and foremost to make money.
  • To this end, much of the mainstream media exists to entertain people, for which purposes it clings to tried and tested formulas and conventions, to avoid any risk to its revenue streams. In the case of trans people, it tends to focus less on what wider society might recognize as familiar about our experience, instead foregrounding what makes us different, peculiar, titillating, aggravating or freakish. Cisgender people, media bosses conclude, do not want to watch a news item about a trans call-centre worker talking about his poor pay and how his shift patterns make medical appointments difficult – because it is depressing and, arguably, familiar to many low-paid non-trans people with medical conditions of their own. [...] Trans bodies when objectified are entertainment; trans bodies when at work in the service of profit are not.
  • Pinkwashing’ is a term sometimes used to describe this process, by which corporations and brands try to veil unethical practices or boardroom avarice by publicly claiming to support LGBTQ+ rights. Yet even if corporate cynicism is the motivating factor, surely if it can be successfully harnessed by LGBTQ+ organizations to improve conditions for some trans workers, then the net effect is positive? The problem is that such day-to-day improvements in some workplaces, beneficial though they may be, are piecemeal, isolated and entirely dependent on the discretion of individual employers. The bigger picture at a societal level remains unaltered – particularly, the ongoing problems that remain for the most vulnerable trans people – and no amount of employer-led diversity schemes can provide any progressive, structural solution to the oppression endured by trans workers. This must be said: corporate diversity schemes can never guarantee the safety, dignity and prosperity of the transgender worker – or, indeed, any worker – in the way that a strong and robust trade union movement and a properly funded welfare state can.
  • Movements are taken out of the hands of the radical, angry, non-respectable, non-conforming people who did the years of unrewarded hard graft to make it all happen, then gradually they are overrun by small-minded career activists out to make a name for themselves. In other words, social justice movements that cede their ability to decide priorities and direction to wealthy corporations and media outlets also grant those groups the right to determine which political demands are acceptable and which are not.
  • Generally, trans people remain confined to lower-paid, more precarious roles even in the organizations that campaign for our welfare. In particular, Black and Asian trans communities in Britain remain completely under-represented in LGBTQ+ sector organizations; these are the same communities experiencing the brunt of systemic anti-LGBTQ+ oppression in the UK.

Chapter Four edit

  • Despite the extreme ways in which their bodies are mythologized, fetishized and denigrated by our culture, trans sex workers, compared to other kinds of trans worker, enjoy the least solidarity and have the least political attention paid to the reality of their lives. This disparity only increases when the trans sex worker is also a migrant and a person of colour.
  • In a society that is both patriarchal and capitalist, men’s misogyny towards women sits comfortably alongside their desire to extract women’s sexual labour. This does not change because the woman is trans. In fact, given the political invisibility of most trans women, it may be intensified. To put it plainly, many of the men who purchase the services of trans sex workers will be the same men who argue for the oppression of all trans people and all sex workers. They will be the same men who preach hate and incite violence against them and the same men who, in some cases, personally use physical violence against them. It is no coincidence that trans sex workers are often at the forefront of LGBTQ+ community organizing and activism across the globe, particularly in countries where LGBTQ+ rights are opposed by the state. At times, the two collide.
  • Globally, trans sex workers make up 62 per cent of all trans murder victims, where the victim’s profession is known. [...] Trans sex workers around the world are often at most risk from the very same men to whom they sell their services. This is not some puzzling ‘hypocrisy’, but a horrifying and sometimes deadly reality. It should also be an urgent wake-up call for society and workers’ movements to better protect and support trans sex workers. Trans people’s increased likelihood of experiencing family rejection and homelessness, combined with substantial healthcare costs and a struggle to secure other forms of employment, means that many engage in the stigmatized work of selling sex. And, as we have already seen, trans sex workers experience unique and severe forms of vulnerability and violence. Therefore, the issue of sex-worker rights and safety must be at the heart of the trans liberation movement.
  • Above all, anti-prostitution feminism argues, men’s demand for the right to purchase sex should be condemned and criminalized. Given the extreme violence to which trans people, particularly trans women, who do sex work are subject worldwide, it seems tempting for trans politics to join with this condemnation of male violence and, consequently, with the condemnation of men who purchase sex. It is true that many sectors of the sex industry, from pornography to street sex work to managed brothels, rely on the exploitation of trans sex workers’ financial and social vulnerability by cisgender men for profit. Yet the converse argument – for pro-sex-worker trans politics – isn’t intended as a moral absolution of the client or unethical industry practices; it isn’t concerned with morality at all. Rather, it recognizes that trans sex workers exist in a society in which money is necessary for survival, and that sex work is one of a limited number of options available to the marginalized in this society – and so, regardless of any condemnation or criminalization of clients, trans sex workers will still need to sell sex. Accepting this reality turns the focus from ‘ending demand’ for sexual services, to harm-reduction for the worker. It is on this basis that full decriminalization of sex work in all its forms must be a central tenet of the movement for trans rights.
  • The murders of trans women sex workers are not rare. This is a recurring phenomenon and we regularly try to alert public opinion and the authorities to this violence. Unfortunately, as always, we find ourselves alone.

Chapter Five edit

  • Trans people are emblematic of wider, conceptual concerns about the autonomy of the individual in society. Their rejection of dominant, ancient and deep-seated ideas about the connection between biological characteristics and identity causes a dilemma for the nation state: whether to acknowledge and give credence to the individual’s assertion of their own identity in law and in culture; or to mandate that it, the state, is the final authority on identity, and to assert its power over the individual – by force if necessary. Attacking the very concept of trans people by imposing rigid and immutable definitions of sex and gender, as Orbán’s Fidesz party has done, is the latest iteration of the way national governments embrace totalitarian ideology. After all, attacking trans people has been a part of fascist practice since the destruction of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Berlin Institute of Sexology back in 1933 by Nazi youth brigades.
  • Trans people are not a burden to society or to the state. It ought to be the state’s obligation to support trans people, not the other way around.
  • Reliance on policing to solve transphobic hatred among teenagers and young adults, instead of questioning the underlying causes of their hate, is what some radical activists call ‘carceral logic’: a punishment mentality, which is more concerned with being seen to punish violence with greater force than with working towards the creation of a less violent society. Preventing a culture from developing in which hatred towards trans people is normalized is much more likely to reduce harm than the ineffective use of hate-crime legislation and police powers.
  • Britain should be a country whose borders are open to all who are fleeing persecution. It also should be a country where trans people are not subjected to violence by the British state itself, through brutal misuse of policing and prisons. Trans communities and our allies here and everywhere should fight for our siblings who face state violence and systemic transphobia in all its forms.

Chapter Six edit

  • One crucial reason why LGBT people have cause to organize together politically is that, even though we see ourselves as distinct tribes, the rest of society has tended to conflate us. Or as one trans person succinctly put it: we are all beaten up by the same people. This shared oppression, both historic and current, drives – indeed, necessitates – solidarity between lesbians, gay men, bi people and trans people. In an era of growing right-wing populism in the United States and the UK alike, accompanied by an alarming rise in visible street fascism, there is more need than ever for unity across the four different letters (as well as queer, asexual, intersex and other groups). It is in the interests of those who hate us all for us to be at war with one another.
  • It may seem paradoxical that in a period where civil rights for LGBT people seem to be at unique risk – a time in which Boris Johnson, a man who once called gay men ‘tank-topped bum boys’ and equated gay marriage with bestiality, can be prime minister – there has never been more media representation for LGBT people or more companies happy to insist they support us. This is not out of the sheer kindness of corporate hearts. Brands have recognized that the rainbow flag lends them the goodwill of people who care about social justice. Corporations can purport to be part of a movement with countercultural and liberationist roots, package that movement as ‘aspirational’ for marketing purposes, and in doing so denude it of all the politics that threaten the capitalist status quo and sell it back to those who can afford it. The idea that conspicuous consumption is a route to sexual and gender freedom has been effective in allowing the LGBT movement’s muscles to atrophy. In a godless age, there are new ways to give the masses their opium.
  • The effect of both division and consumerism is to encourage individual identity over and above commonality. A person’s sense of their own identity is certainly important for psychological wellbeing – but as a political end point it leads to solipsism and detachment from others. From this perspective, identity is understood as a set of immutable and finite categories with particular criteria for membership. Yet the political justification for the LGBT coalition must begin with something different: the overlapping and occasionally muddled history that all four letters share.
  • When you feel your culture and identity endangered and ephemeral, the anchor of history and the celebration of antecedents can be empowering, and worth fighting fiercely for.
  • The twenty-first century has seen wider acknowledgment of the fact that human sexuality is much more complex than the rigid and unchanging categories of heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual can express; the experiences of trans people are just one part of this increased sexual diversity. In the case of non-binary people – whose gender identities and expressions may sit outside of the categories of man and woman, or move between the two – the nineteenth-century categories of human sexuality make little sense – which is why the term ‘queer’ has risen in popularity.
  • Everyone has a right to set sexual boundaries for any reason and to not feel pressured sexually on an individual basis.
  • Trans lesbians have as much of a right as any other lesbian to pursue sexual and romantic connections in an appropriate and consensual way, without being misrepresented as predatory men. Some lesbians are attracted to trans women and are open to dating them, and such couples risk total erasure of their sexuality by their peers and the media. These disputes often begin with the right of a trans woman to call herself a lesbian at all.
  • Moral panics rely on an inherent paradox: that the rights of a small minority of the population wielding little institutional power are in fact a risk to the majority. This is achieved by inciting in the population a mixture of moral disgust and anxiety about contagion. The problem group may be small now, but they will grow. They will grow by encouraging confused young people to join. For sexual minorities, this narrative of recruitment lends itself to the language of seduction and abuse, which helps direct the moral disgust society feels at paedophilia on to an innocent group. It is a shameful but highly effective propaganda tool. Despite the obvious parallels and analogous struggles that trans people have had with the wider queer movement’s struggle for sexual liberation, the claim that trans people are not only actively different but substantially harmful to the LGB movement has been readily embraced and promoted by extreme political conservatives. This includes even politicians who would themselves traditionally oppose lesbian, gay and bisexual rights.
  • Even if a tiny proportion of LGB people are willing to team up with right-wing homophobes to oppose trans civil rights, it only takes a handful of committed LGB people wilfully perpetuating these negative narratives for them to become normalized. Such narratives are then taken up by political conservatives and far-right voices, whose ultimate goal is the dismantling of all LGBTQ+ rights because of their profound disgust for us all.
  • The simple moral case for resisting transphobia as a form of cruelty should be enough for anyone who has been similarly victimized by society (as cisgender lesbians, gay men and bisexual people have all been in one way or another) to stand with us in solidarity. Yet it should also be a matter of self-interest. The world in which trans people’s rights are restricted relies on narratives of dehumanization and myths of sexual predation. Restricting trans people’s rights relies on policing other people’s gendered appearance in toilets and changing rooms by arbitrating on who looks male or female enough, and by punishing deviation from rigid norms with intimidation and violence. It involves kids following the examples of adults and harassing their peers in the playground for being different. It relies on parents either beating into submission the child asserting their identity, or psychologically breaking them with conversion therapy. These traumatic experiences affect all ‘queers’, whether trans or cis. Advocating for them in any form for any letter will inevitably normalize their use against everyone judged queer. Politically, it is a gift to fascists at a time of growing far-right sentiment in Europe and North America alike.
  • Together, an LGBTQ+ coalition with class consciousness and anti-racism at its core must recover its radicalism and reaffirm its opposition to capitalism and patriarchy. Infighting and division are in the interests of our right-wing oppressors. Gay people and trans people have had to battle similar arguments about being ‘unnatural’: homophobia still often rests on the prejudice that the worthiest form of sexuality is that which is capable of reproduction. Transphobia, too, emanates from a prejudice that a person’s stated identity is more trustworthy if it reflects their ‘natural’ role in human reproduction. Similarly, cisgender women’s reproductive freedom is the first thing to be curbed by conservative regimes. Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia share much of the same DNA. To the patriarchy, we all do gender wrong.

Chapter Seven edit

  • Anti-trans feminists’ repeated claims that they were being silenced were in fact highly effective in getting their viewpoints aired on television, radio and in the press.
  • Ignoring colonialism allows British (or other Western) feminists to disregard how the imposition of the strict gender binary of man and woman, with the accompanying hierarchy of male over female, was itself a mechanism of colonialism. Many pre-colonial societies and indigenous peoples did not view gender as binary. Some, as we have seen, had more than two genders, while the social roles around family and childrearing varied widely. To take one among a multitude of examples: in the seventeenth century, Paul Le Jeune, a Jesuit missionary to the Montagnais (Innu) people residing in Nitassinan (eastern Quebec and Labrador in Canada), described how the women held ‘great power’ and had ‘in nearly every instance … the choice of plans, of undertakings, of journeys, of winterings’. Often, Montagnais women would hunt, while men looked after children. Conversion to Christianity, encouraged by men by like Le Jeune, required the establishment of a new hierarchy and more rigid gender roles. Within ten years of colonial missionary activity and trading relations beginning, the Montagnais had started to insist on male authority and to inflict violence on wives and children. Such accounts of colonial domination show how rapidly a society’s understanding of gender can be changed as society itself changes. They demonstrate clearly that what it means to be a woman or a man (or neither) is not a fixed and stable entity, but a complex constellation of biological, political, economic and cultural factors, which may shift over time.
  • Whichever way you look at it, the debate among cisgender feminists about whether or not trans women are to be included in both the definition of woman and the feminist movement still primarily envisions feminism as a project owned by cis women. In this vision, trans people are positioned either negatively, as impostors, or positively, as welcome guests. The case for inclusivity can often rest on whether it is ‘kind’ or ‘good’ or ‘right’ to welcome trans women as sisters, rather than any serious consideration of why their inclusion might be politically necessary for liberation from patriarchy. Rarely in mainstream debates over trans people and feminism do we consider the fatal flaw in any feminist movement that purports to be dismantling the patriarchy while disregarding the implications of trans people’s existence. Their existence complicates cis feminism, and such complexity can only be erased by seeing the struggle as primarily about cis women fighting oppression by cis men. The reality, I would argue, is this: not only do trans people need feminism, but feminism also needs trans people.
  • Transfeminism is a term used to describe a collection of perspectives on feminism that centre the experiences of trans people. This perspective recognizes trans people as a group who, like cis women, suffer greatly at the hands of patriarchy, which punishes us for transgressing the roles laid out for us from birth. It is not a rival movement to other forms of feminism, nor is it a subdivision. It is a specific approach to feminist thought and organizing that begins with trans experience, rather than seeking to slot trans people into a cis feminist theory that is often articulated without us in mind.
  • Naturally, cisgender women’s feminism starts with the general principle that patriarchy is a system that benefits men to the detriment of women, and empowers men specifically by disempowering women. In some form or other, most cis feminist thought argues for a crucial distinction to be made between sex – one’s biology – and gender, a social structure that dictates appropriate male and female behaviour. Trans feminists also believe that, while the difference between bodies and the cultural narratives we use to interpret those bodies does exist, such difference is not always easily recognized or mapped. Our sexed bodies never exist outside social meanings: consequently, how we understand gender shapes how we understand sex. The gender critical feminist idea – that there exists an objective biological reality which is real and observable to everyone in the same way and, distinct from that, a constructed set of subjective gender stereotypes that can be easily abolished – is an oversimplification. The way we perceive and understand sex differences and emphasize their significance is so deeply gendered that it can be impossible to completely divorce the two.
  • The way we are all taught, from a young age, to make the link between visible biological sex traits and behaviour can be extremely powerful in shaping our intuitions about other people. This process of interpretation and the way it affects how we relate to and behave towards others is part of the system we call gender. Feminism, though, ought always to interrogate biological essentialism (the idea that a person’s nature or personality is innate; arising from, or connected to, their biological traits). The idea that anyone born with a penis is inherently more aggressive or violent because they have a penis is an anti-feminist idea: it actually suggests that male violence is linked to biological ‘essence’ and is therefore inevitable, immutable, perhaps not even truly men’s fault. Yet anti-trans feminism is forced to rely on biological essentialism in its insistence that there is too great a similarity between trans women and cis men for the former to be regarded legally and politically as women. Transphobic feminism often uses imagery connected to penises (imagined or real) belonging to trans women as a powerful rhetorical tool, to suggest that trans women are exhibiting aggression or entitlement or are a threat.
  • Trans feminists seek to interrogate society’s ingrained assumptions about the social and cultural meanings we ascribe to biology. They also generally incorporate an analysis of intersex people, who do not fit this reductive model, and who have suffered historical and ongoing mistreatment at the hands of a medical establishment obsessed with imposing binary biological sex on to bodies that don’t ‘fit’. The experiences of trans and intersex people show us that not all humans fit perfectly into two clear-cut categories of biological sex; indeed, the belief there are two separate sex categories is itself an erasure of sex variations that occur either naturally or through medical modification. The global dominance of men over women can never be dismantled while simultaneously maintaining, preserving and reinforcing the binary model of sex and gender.
  • Patriarchy is based on three key ideas: that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are a natural, immutable and exhaustive binary; that all males should be masculine, and all females should be feminine; that masculinity is incompatible with and superior to femininity.
  • The reality is that transition is an act most trans women and girls see as lifesaving, and one for which they can be punished severely: with violence, with community and familial rejection, with poverty, with mental illness, with sexual abuse, with domestic violence and, yes, with murder. That we can be both highly at risk of rape by men and blamed for rape by feminists is made possible because the media constructs trans women simultaneously as deviant men and as dangerous women.
  • Trans women have received much more coverage, both good and bad. But it is wrong to equate the mainstream media with the LGBTQ+ movement or, more specifically, the trans movement. The idea that greater visibility automatically leads to greater political power is a misapprehension, particularly when some of the most celebrated trans women in media are actresses, models and writers – industries in which all women are sexualized and obsessed over.
  • Misogyny, as we’ve seen, is multifaceted and polices different people and different kinds of bodies in different ways: all must be resisted in order for feminism to truly challenge patriarchy.
  • I believe it is important to debunk the myth that transfeminism is a new departure from the feminist theory of the past. As we have seen, ambivalence about the categories of man and woman, challenging biological essentialism, and championing a multifaceted analysis of the harm that misogyny does to every human being (including men) have always been central to feminist thought.
  • One of feminism’s central ideas: that gender is a reductive trap which limits freedom and curbs individuality, forcing people to deform themselves and their desires in the service of an exploitative and violent system.
  • When non-binary people ask for legal recognition or a rethinking of gendered language (for instance through neutral pronouns, or new words for new genders), they are asking for more freedom for us all. In one sense, the claim that everyone is non-binary isn’t wrong: the binary is a powerful and pervasive myth, and everyone is somewhere on a spectrum. ‘Non-binary’ is only useful insofar as it is a term which can be used to make such ideas legible to policymakers, families, schools and societies. It is a term designed to make conversation easier; it is not the end point.
  • The existence of trans people ought to make everyone take a long hard look at their own dearly held ideas about gender, and wonder whether these ideas are quite as stable and certain as they once thought. This would be healthy. The distinction between men and women is often arbitrary. The distinction between ‘binary’ trans men and women and non-binary trans people is equally arbitrary and, in reality, the precise distinction between people we call cis and people we call trans isn’t rigid either. The fact that definitions can be so unstable is clearly deeply troubling to many – which is why it is easier to belittle challenges to binaries than to take on their contradictions, complications and exceptions. ‘We are all non-binary’ is potentially a radical new analysis for how we might reorder society, but conventionally it is used by gender critical feminists to mock those people making political demands to dismantle the binary’s imprint on our culture. Yet those critics provide no alternative for how we would otherwise emancipate society from binary gender stereotypes and roles. Once more, feminist hostility to non-binary people reasserts the notion of an inescapable biological sex that should be given more social and legal credence than a variant gender identity, a notion that merely replicates patriarchy’s own logic.
  • Feminism must concern itself with radical possibilities for our future, a future in which gender-based violence and harm is abolished, freeing us all to lead more joyful lives. That cannot begin with barring the freedom to find other ways to look at, understand or do gender.
  • Trans people deserve social dignity and personal respect, regardless of whether or not they wish to immerse themselves in feminist politics. At a time of growing populist authoritarianism, which seems determined to entrench sexism, misogyny and transphobia across the globe, one may even wonder why a theoretical framework for understanding trans people should be the prime concern for any feminist.
  • Theory is important: it shapes our society, whether or not we engage with it intellectually. [...] But theory should only ever play second fiddle to the practical work of movement-building, resource-allocation, care and solidarity. Political coalitions rarely achieve full mutual understanding of every facet of one another’s reality. Rather, they are practical collaborations based on shared goals.

Conclusion edit

  • There can be no trans liberation under capitalism. This is a fact. Yet it’s not a popular view among liberal and centrist LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, who – as we’ve seen in the course of this book – talk about ‘trans rights’ in isolation as a range of personal freedoms and protections; and who cling to corporations and brands as potential ‘allies’ in the fight for social acceptance.
  • Being trans, of course, is not a consciously adopted political position, just as claiming a trans identity is not, usually, an expression of a consciously held ideology. A trans person is just a person. We see our daily lives through the same everyday lens as most human beings; after all, we are simply trying to live. However, as with all stigmatized social identities, the very ability to articulate being trans, or to work, seek healthcare, or participate in civic life while trans, is political.
  • Labour itself is innocent of transphobia, both within its membership and from some of its key figures, who have failed to show full and public solidarity with trans communities. Anti-trans discourse is very much alive on the left in Britain, in trade unions and in local party branches.
  • The majority of trans people are working class, and the oppression of trans people is specifically rooted in capitalism. In short, capitalism across the world still relies heavily on the idea of different categories of men’s work and women’s work, in which ‘women’s work’ (such as housework, child-rearing and emotional labour) is either poorly paid or not paid at all. In order for this categorization to function, it needs to rest on a clear idea of how to divide men and women. Capitalism also requires a certain level of unemployment to function. If there were enough work to go round, no worker would worry about losing their job, and all workers could demand higher wages and better conditions. The ever-present spectre of unemployment, on the other hand, enables employers to dictate conditions. Equally, in times of severe crisis this ‘reserve army’ of unemployed people can be called into employment as and when the economy requires it. This system of deliberate unemployment needs ways to mark who will work and who will be left unemployed. In our society this is principally achieved through race, class, gender and disability. Social exclusion and revulsion at the existence of trans people usefully provides another class of people more likely to be left in the ranks of the unemployed (even more so if they are trans and poor, black or disabled – which is why unemployment is highest among these trans people).
  • The idea of linear political struggles, which are confined to formal parliamentary politics, is a chimera. Protest, civil disobedience, local community work, care work, and bridge-building with other oppressed people are all politics: all will be necessary in our struggle.
  • Hope is part of the human condition and trans people’s hope is our proof that we are fully human. We are not an ‘issue’ to be debated and derided. We are symbols of hope for many non-trans people, too, who see in our lives the possibility of living more fully and freely. That is why some people hate us: they are frightened by the gleaming opulence of our freedom. Our existence enriches this world.

External links edit

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: