As part of this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, we invited Alex Moore to talk to us about the recent transphobic attacks in the UK media.
What has, until the past few years, been somewhat quietly bubbling under the surface, is now emerging from the shadows and rearing its ugly head; the UK media is engaged in a culture war, whipping up a moral panic about trans people which puts us all in incredible danger.
From the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section to the New Statesman, transphobic headlines and op-eds reign free. The Times have published multiple blatantly transphobic articles alongside the Mail and the Sun, who have led the outrage against the Church Of England’s updated anti-bullying guidelines with somewhat coordinated front-page, attention-grabbing hit pieces against trans kids. Articles in the Evening Standard and elsewhere deliberately misrepresented the suspension of a transphobic teacher; portraying it as a result of one tiny transgression rather than a result of consistent harassment and marginalisation of a trans pupil. Naturally, the teacher in question complained that he was being “silenced” in his lengthy interview on ITV’s This Morning, which was broadcast on national television for millions to watch.
While the purpose of these articles is to instil transphobia in members of society, and make the UK an incredibly hostile place for the trans community, the authors often attempt to disguise or excuse this transphobia with misleading compassion for another vulnerable, marginalised or oppressed group. The Daily Mail and the Sun attempted to obscure their transphobia with a false compassion for the “innocence” of children. Writers in the New Statesman – a neoliberal rag which consistently platforms notorious transphobes including Sarah Ditum and Helen Lewis (one of the deputy editors) – attempt to project their bigotry onto a higher feminist cause. The Times’ hit pieces have been somewhat of a mixture of the two. By attempting to partially obscure their blatantly transphobic rhetoric, they create a more acceptable public face for transphobia and are able to detach themselves from the harm that they cause and the hatred they incite.
While these journalists attack the trans community as whole, most of what they engage in is transmisogyny; specific hatred against trans women. Much of the vitriolic abuse hurled at the community is specifically directed towards trans women regarding their use of bathrooms and changing facilities. This involves either subtly or overtly implying that trans women are men – a completely incorrect and transphobic sentiment – and are therefore endangering and terrorising “real” women (read: cis women) in these segregated spaces. This is a complete and utter red herring for many reasons, not least because trans people are much more likely to be harassed using the bathrooms than be the harasser. It’s not even a new red herring; civil rights for people of colour in the US saw bathroom use being utilised as a contentious issue to hinder progress.
The infographic may be US-related, but it does paint an important picture of the misinformation constantly spread about trans people; not just when it comes to bathrooms. Trans kids have been the targets of abuse and scrutiny from the press as much as trans women using bathrooms have, with more misinformation spread about us than you could shake a stick at. The moral panic surrounding trans kids is astounding; claims that they are forced to transition by parents or medical professionals, offered irreversible hormone therapy, and even been pressured to undergo gender affirming surgery, are all unfounded and incredibly dangerous. Trans young people are able only to access hormone blockers before the age of 16, nothing else. Even at that, there is a requirement for a mental health diagnosis to receive these (trans people in the UK are unnecessarily and dangerously pathologized, in both legal and medical areas), alongside years of intrusive and invasive interrogation and bureaucracy. Information spread about trans youth in the press is disgracefully inaccurate and actively endangers the lives of the young people themselves.
The UK press has even gone as low as to explicitly target UK-based trans YouTubers, who trans young people often look to for inspiration and hope. The Daily Mail accused Alex Bertie and others of “encouraging” young people to transition in a two page spread attacking trans young people, their idols, their coping mechanisms and their mental health. Using children as cannon fodder for transphobia is an incredibly disgusting act, but completely unsurprising. Transphobia is the new acceptable bigotry in the press, and they’re running with it hard.
More “moderate” writers and publications will attempt to distance themselves from radical or overt transphobia; don’t let them. Anyone who espouses transphobia is culpable in making that an acceptable value to hold. Helen Lewis, for instance, attempted to portray the Mail as irrational for their outrage about the new COE anti-bullying policies; thus completely ignoring the role her, her colleagues, and her trashy New Statesman play in normalising transphobia and endangering trans lives. Hold her – and everyone else – accountable for the ideologies they perpetuate.
Ending note; support trans charities. It’s all well and good sharing your disgust about an attack in the Daily Mail, but it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. We are fighting for trans liberation on peanuts – there is no ‘all powerful trans lobby’ to finance this cause. Many campaigners and support workers work full time without pay. Support trans-led liberation organisations; GenderJam NI, Act 4 Trans Health, Mermaids. We desperately need your help in taking down the establishment and liberating the trans community.
Secondary ending note; don’t support anti-trans rags. The only thing the New Statesman, the Mail, the Times, the Sun, and so many other rags are good for is lighting a nice cosy fire to help you through the winter months. Don’t bankroll transphobic publications; you’re financing and supporting transphobia.