There have been few days when trans people have not been under fire in the British media. Recently JK Rowling “came out” to persecute trans, transsexual and non-binary people with their beliefs that only cisgender people are real and valid. Ricky Gervais quickly followed suit, backing the biological essentialist beliefs of the author of the famous “Harry Potter” books, only to later say he was “only joking”. He’s not the first comedian to cash in on ridiculing, marginalising and dehumanising transgender, non-binary and transsexual people. Debbie Hayton STILL hasn’t been removed from the LGBT committee of the TUC despite having been informed on numerous occasions by us and many other twitter users of her protracted campaign of hate. And despite Maya Forstater spectacularly loosing her case to make transphobia a protected belief (yes, this actually happened), the British press – The Times and Guardian included, continue to paint her as a victim – and paint trans people’s rights and freedoms as “debatable”. The actual full ruling can be found here, which is very damning and very different to how it is painted in the British press.
This was just one month in which transgender, transsexual, and non-binary people’s lives, and ultimately their humanity is “debated” by those in power. Earlier this year we had attacks on trans people’s right to participate in sport, attacks on health and social provisions for trans people and especially trans children (which spectacularly backfired after Graham Linehan, a British comedian, attempted to block funding for a trans charity which supports trans children and lost his legal case), and innumerable transphobic articles from cisgender women writing opinions in the press, including renown transphobe Julie Bindell. Petitions rage on with alarming frequency with lists of British and Scottish MP’s from every denomination backing calls for an apartheid system separating trans and cis women, with the notable exception of the Liberal Democrats. The Conservative party, having once vowed to overhaul the gender recognition act – making it easier for trans people to get married in their actual rather than assigned gender, and have official documents matching their gender, fell flat following pressure from cisgender women championing apartheid.
Analysis – these are your tools!
Understanding the subtleties of transphobia can be understandably confusing for the un-initiated – it’s usually presented in such a palatable way to be insidious. However, by using these tools developed by other minorities, and as a result of atrocities, analysis is your friend when considering the nature of the
propaganda news article or tweet you are reading. Consider what you are reading using this two step model.
Step One: Consider the four I’s.
Ideological oppression: The thought or idea that one group is somehow better than the other, and has the right to control the other group. In cisgender dominance over trans, transsexual and non-binary people this idea is generally elaborated as “normal”, “biological”, and “real”, where trans identities are painted as “abnormal”, “deviant”, “not real”, or as “mental illness”.
Institutional oppression: The idea that one group is better than another group and has the right to control the other, which becomes embedded in the institutions of the society: the laws, the legal system and police practice, the education system and schools, hiring policies, public policies, housing development, media images, political power, etc. Examples in law in the UK include the dissolution of marriages when a person transitions and the spousal vito, the protracted and expensive process to obtain a gender recognition certificate with no right to appeal, and the right for cisgender people to expel trans people from social support “under exceptional circumstances”.
Interpersonal oppression: The idea that one group is better than another and has the right to control the other. It becomes structured into institutions, gives permission and reinforcement for individual members of the dominant group to personally disrespect or mistreat individuals in the oppressed group. Examples include being called “brave” for refusing to use an individuals pronouns, or for dehumanising trans people, or perpetuating ideologically oppressive memes. Interpersonal oppression is the expulsion of trans people from gay and lesbian groups (see the LGB alliance) based on cisgender supremacist ideas. It is not including trans people in work events, social meetings, or speaking badly of people. Just as the definition of racism is prejudice + power, so is the definition of transphobia.
Internalised Oppression: The fourth way oppression works is within the groups of people who suffer the most from the mistreatment. Oppressed people internalize the ideology of inferiority, they see it reflected in the institutions, they experience disrespect interpersonally from members of the dominant group, and they eventually come to internalize the negative messages about themselves and each other. Examples include transsexual people who develop body image disturbances after transition and looking perfectly integrated to others. It may extend to criticism between trans people for not looking or behaving “cis”.
The net result of the four i’s is internalised privilege: acceptance of a belief in the inherent inferiority of the oppressed group as well as the inherent superiority or normalcy of one’s own privileged group. It is this which is the cornerstone of oppression for which the British media is very much at: that biological sex is immutable, real, more deserving of protection and normal.
Step two: Consider the stages of genocide
In 2016, Gregory H Stanton reformulated the 8 stages of genocide to 10 stages. It’s important to note that they don’t need to follow in order from 1 to 10, and often stages appear out of sequence, or simultaneously. Considering transphobia in relation to these stages, we are already over half way there. Trans people, their families and allies know this, and work tirelessly in the face of a growing tide of propaganda and extremist views.
Stage one: Classification. Any discussion which attempts to unreservedly exclude trans people, especially by means of referral to “biological sex”, which is seen as “real” and “unquestionable” creates a classification – a wedge with which to divide the groups. Homogeneity and inclusion of trans people – by means of including non-binary people in public greetings, and inclusion of trans people in gay and lesbian groups dismantles this categorisation. Finding common ground is an important step towards peaceful coexistence.
Stage two: Symbolisation. Symbolisation for unity and the common good is a force for good – where people become united and share common goals and outcomes, however, when symbolisation is used for oppression, when it is used to attack another group, to denigrate and dehumanise them it is a step in the wrong direction. Such symbols used against transgender, transsexual and non-binary people include the black and white flag of the “LGB alliance”, T-shirts with “woman: adult human female”, stickers, and the lesbian axe flag are all symbolic of hatred and intolerance towards trans people. To combat hateful symbolisation requires legal action and/or making such symbols culturally inappropriate.
Stage three: Discrimination. Discrimination is through law, custom and political power. In the UK, political power was used to stop the reform of the gender recognition act in order to make it easier for trans people to participate in society and to be recognised, lawfully as their actual, rather than assigned gender. Stage three discrimination involves excluding trans people from sports, and keeping the legal loophole open for discrimination in the provision of services for trans people.
Two more major legal battles, mentioned above involved making transphobia a protected characteristic, and denying services to trans youth – thankfully our legal system has protected trans people so far. Discrimination on the grounds of gender identity in the UK is only partially outlawed. It is still legal to discriminate on the grounds of gender identity.
Stage four: Dehumanisation. Dehumanisation which affects trans people in the UK involves painting trans people as mentally ill, denying their identities or making fun of them – such as “i identify as an attack helicopter”, likening trans women to sex offenders and perverts, making out that trans people are violent miscreants, fixing on the status of trans people’s genetalia, painting trans people as deceptive, painting lesbian trans women as infiltrators and rapists, over-sexualisation of trans people including objectification and fetishisation. The lack of condemnation from the British people is particularly worrying, and transphobia goes largely un-punished.
Incitement to hatred should not be confused with freedom of speech. The UK is currently awash with transphobia from the state broadcasting company, the BBC, with anti-trans broadcasts from channel 4, woman’s hour, and the British press with alarming regularity. There is little to no countervailing broadcasting, save for those blogs, sites and twitter accounts run by trans people themselves.
Stage five: Organisation. Organisation with respect to the stages of genocide is yet to reach the UK. This involves organisation of state or militia controlled teams to spy on, arrest, torture or murder people. However, it is worthy of note that this year represents the highest ever number of murders in the United States of trans women. In Russia and Poland, this form of organisation is a reality.
To counter this form of organisation, the state should intervene to protect the minority before such actions happen, rather than turn a blind eye as it is doing now.
Stage six: Polarisation. Currently in the UK, feminism is the tool which is being used to enable transphobia, polarising views, excluding trans women being at the forefront of their agenda. Multiple groups are being formed, under the guise of feminism to attack the weakest group of trans people – transgender, transsexual and non-binary women. Moderates are targeted and persuaded to vocalise transphobia, mumsnet continues to act as a conversion platform, supported by the British media and state broadcasting corporation.
Stages 7,8 and 9: Stages 7,8 and 9 cover the extermination of the minority group. Thankfully, we’re not there in the UK, yet.
Stage 10: Denial. Transphobes will deny that transphobia exists. They deny that their groups are aimed at the denigration of trans people and will always say that they are championing feminism, or the protection of cisgender women and girls. They deny any forms of hatred, despite their entire philosophy and movement being about the exclusion of trans people – using the most vulnerable group: transgender, non-binary and transsexual women as their excuse: they are the thin end of the wedge. In the UK, there are currently no moves to restrict transphobia or punish those who perpetrate it.
So… that’s all very technical, what CAN I do to help?
I’m only asking that you raise awareness that this is happening, right under your nose in the UK. We’re a tiny minority of people for whom the public gaze seems incessantly fixed. We suffer this daily. Do what you can, however small.