A call to arms!
There comes a point, in every story, where the darkest depths are reached. The hero, the heroes, have done their best, given their all. Still they seem doomed to fall. Because the other side have turned up to a friendly game of bridge, armed to the teeth and brandishing machine guns. They lie. They cheat. They are inexorable.
All hope is at an end. And that’s as true of the average rom com, where in the minutes before the end, the objet d’amour is seemingly lost forever, as it is of Lord of the Rings or Captain Marvel.
And then, since this is fiction and for the most part we prefer our stories to end optimistically, the tide turns. The hero staggers back to their feet, and nothing now can make them kneel. Or we learn a thing central to undoing all the misunderstandings that went before. Or …the cavalry arrives.
Fiction? Yes. But also, if you’ve been following the “trans debate” in the UK over the last few years, pretty much where we are now. We, the UK’s trans community, are on our knees. We are reeling. And while we are resisting the attacks that daily rain down upon us, we need a helping hand. We need the cavalry.
We need you, the cis women who have quietly supported us through thick and thin, to stand up and put the lie to claims that the anti-trans ideologues somehow speak for “all women”.
We need you, the cis women who have quietly supported us through thick and thin, to stand up and put the lie to claims that the anti-trans ideologues somehow speak for “all women”. Because you know — we know — that is not true: across a wide range of trans-related issues, they are very much in the minority.
The numbers matter
Perhaps context will help. Let’s begin with trans people: and let’s stress PEOPLE, because trans folk are first and foremost people and not “an issue”. Various studies put our total at approximately 600,000. Maybe more: maybe fewer. That would make us a small minority, but as numerous, more numerous, than many other minorities in the UK.
Except we are not 600,000 strong. Nowhere near. Because that 600,000 is a notional total: a potential, assuming every single person who is trans to any degree, both realises that fact and is prepared to step up and out. We are a long way from that. To be clear: if you are not transitioned or transitioning, if you are not out in any way, you may loan some psychic energy to the cause: but you are irrelevant to any discussion of who is using women’s loos, for instance. Because you most certainly are not.
In practice, there are perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 who fit most closely the stereotypical “transsexual” and about whom debate rages: within that total, are just 15,000 to 20,000 trans women, the focal point for the greatest part of the hate and calumny that has poured out over the last few years.
A toxic narrative
To begin, we were Trojan horse: to give us rights was to provide a back entrance by which bad men would slide into women’s spaces and do harm. Though this ignored totally the fact that throughout history, men have done violence and harm to women without need for any sort of disguise beyond an overweening sense of privilege and entitlement.
More recently, we are become the enemy itself. Scouring the press for evidence of badness, the anti-trans have amassed a handful of exceptional cases. They have found incidents where trans folk have done bad things, and on that basis proceeded to tar an entire community. As though Beverley Allitt or Myra Hindley are reason for barring cis women from childcare: a similar selectivity is at work in relation to Muslims in the UK, and too often used, by reactionary politicians, as reason to fear them.
Alongside this, ever since Theresa May allowed the idea of making it easier to obtain a gender recognition certificate to percolate into the political sphere, has been a non-stop media campaign bearing down on every single aspect of trans life. Hundreds of articles per year in almost every single mainstream news paper have appeared, sensationalising and questioning. Even though, the anti-trans ideologues are clear that they are not transphobic: “Who? Us? Perish the thought!”
Somehow I do not think they would grant such latitude to a concerted press campaign that every day published some new horror story about contraception and women exercising their right to choose.
The harm of transphobia
Hundreds of articles. Thousands across the entire media estate. That cannot be without consequence. First, because if there are just 20,000 trans women out there , the number of us who happen to be that scourge of liberal democracy, the “trans rights activist”, can never be more than a few hundred. All that pressure. All that hate — because that is what it is — bearing down on so very few.
Second, we are seeing the impact of that focus daily, in a significant uptick in anti-trans violence on the street and, as predictable, trans people afraid to go about their daily business. It is heart-breaking to read stories from individuals who have felt safely out for decades now saying they are afraid to go swimming: to use a public loo; to walk down the street. In the UK!
Women can make a difference
Yet this is such nonsense. Because the vast majority of the UK public hold no animosity towards trans people. On a local Facebook forum recently, a young trans woman put her hand up to express worries about swimming. The responses, from cis women, were unanimous, touching: “Just go swimming, love: no-one here minds”. How lovely.
Women, cis women, are not worried. Yet the anti-trans continue to be given a platform way above their weight because they claim to speak for all women. (They also have a massive war chest funded, in part, by some of the most regressive anti-women organisations in US politics: but that is another story).
They are behind the transphobia that now besets the BBC: are deeply implicated, we guess, in a recent decision to remove key links to trans organisations from the BBC website. And they keep getting away with it because of a very particular male cringe.
Men can see that much of this is hot air, not based on any firm ground. Yet they, too, are afraid. In this instance, they fear for their reputations. They do not want the anti-trans to brand them anti-women. Which is why they stay silent.
And that is where the cavalry come in. Because the cavalry are you. Ordinary, everyday cis women: from chief execs to single mums. We know what you think about this stuff: know that you are uncomfortable with all that is being done “in your name”. Your saying as much would make a difference.
That is why we are asking you to stand up and be counted. Trans people need you. We cannot do this on our own. It is a physical impossibility. We are asking you, please, in sisterhood and in simple humanity to stand up and say, at last, before the final reel: “Not in my name”. And to say it publicly.
It takes little to be an ally. But for trans people, binary, non-binary, out and still hiding, it means the world.
And if you like the idea, please feel free to drop me (@janefae) a line on twitter for more information.