No, celebrating trans rights is not repulsive
A few weeks ago, a senior Labour figure — a proud socialist and feminist — told me that the party was strengthening its position on trans rights, in part because of the bile of anti-trans activists. “There will be a great irony (hopefully) after towards that Labour’s policy was quite regressive,” she told me, “but due to the work of this awful lot — it’s come to the party’s attention and will move further away from what they want.”
So, when Labour updated its policy yesterday in support of trans rights and the right of trans women to self-identify, I noted this fact.
The response from James Kirkup, writer for the noted feminist publication The Spectator (which I’ll come on to), was that this tweet was “repulsive”.
Let’s unpack this tweet. Firstly, prominent Labour women — such as Angela Rayner and Dawn Butler — have been at the forefront of championing trans rights, and have been subjected to the same relentless online pile-ons and abuse as anybody else who sticks their head above the parapet and supports trans rights.
The British Social Attitudes survey finds that women are significantly more likely to support trans rights than men: for example, 72% of women say they are “very” or “quite” comfortable with a trans woman using a female toilet, compared to 64% of men who say the same about trans men in a male toilet. Every scrap of research and polling on both sides of the Atlantic finds that women are the most supportive of trans rights, particularly younger women, and particularly left-of-centre younger women. The most opposed? Older right-of-centre men.
Is this a surprise? No. Transphobia is disproportionately a male affliction, just like homophobia. The argument that the Labour party is “imposing” a policy on Labour women is completely disingenuous — and indeed airbrushes the Labour women (ranging Members of Parliament to members of the party’s National Executive Committee) who made the policy shift possible.
When Kirkup says I’m “laughing” (evidence?) about Labour “ignoring their views” (i.e. Labour women) he is being doubly disingenuous. The online campaign against trans rights which the senior Labour figure was speaking about has frequently been hateful and abusive. The relentless misgendering of trans people (i.e. calling trans women ‘men’, often directly in tweets to them). Senior anti-trans activists making gratuitous comments about people’s genitalia, joking about trans people committing suicide, posting videos calling supports of trans rights “mad, evil, stupid” or a combination of all three, posting other videos featuring slideshows of trans women and laughing at how “male” they look, obsessively bullying 19-year-old woman Lily Madigan for having the audacity to be democratically elected Woman’s Officer by her local Labour Party, and calling women who support trans rights “handmaidens” (which is slightly ironic because Margaret Atwood tweeted in favour of trans rights and then, predictably, was herself condemned by anti-trans activists). Any man or woman who speaks out in support of trans rights will — every single time — be subjected to an online pile-on which is frequently abusive and unrelenting. And if you are a journalist who speaks out in support of trans rights, you will be subjected to attempts to have you sacked as a consequence: ironic, given anti-trans activists claim they are being silenced, even as they enjoy the support of virtually the entire British press, including those well known redoubts of feminism, The Sun and The Daily Mail.
So yes, this particular campaign has backfired. The press have waged the most vicious campaign against the LGBTQ community since the heyday of the anti-gay press crusades, activists online have tried to hound trans people and their supporters, and a party founded to wage a ceaseless war against all forms of oppression, exploitation and bigotry responded by reaffirming its commitment to equality.
On gender self-ID itself. I recommend reading this piece by my brilliant colleague Libby Brooks on the implementation of self-ID in Ireland. Not a single one of the fears promoted by anti-trans activists about what self-ID will mean has materialised. In the context of the Labour party, the idea that men will pretend to be women in order to get selected as parliamentary candidates on all-women’s shortlists — which have proved critical in trying to redress the lack of women’s representation int he Labour Party — is simply beyond belief. In the almost unimaginable scenario of a man who wasn’t trans trying to do that, the idea party members would vote for them to be their representative is simply absurd. The tragic reality is that, today, out of 650 Members of Parliament, not one — not *one* — is openly trans.
Returning to James Kirkup’s description of my celebration of Labour’s shift on trans rights, and the failure of anti-trans rights activists, as “repulsive”. What is repulsive, Kirkup, is the articles churned out by your publication, The Spectator, which routinely publishes articles by noted sexists Rod Liddle (who gave us just gems as ‘Women’s pay could bankrupt the BBC’ and ‘This sexist assumption that women are weaker. It’s right, isn’t it’).
What’s also repulsive is the sorts of policies cheered on by The Spectator which have waged a ceaseless war on women in this country. That 86% of the benefit cuts and tax hikes have hit women under this government, that the attacks on the public sector has disproportionately affected women, that women’s refuges for women and girls fleeing male violence have been decimated because of cuts. We could go on.
As I’ve said, there’s nothing “repulsive” about celebrating trans rights in a country where nearly half of trans pupils have attempted suicide, where a large majority have mental distress, where most have faced harassment, bullying and/or discrimination. Almost the entire press is ranged against them, and there are so few prepared to speak out in support — partly because of the sheer viciousness of so many anti-trans activists. As a gay man, who belongs to a minority which has itself suffered decades of oppression and victimisation, I have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with the most discriminated section of the LGBTQ world. That isn’t “repulsive”: it’s just the right thing to do.