How can people be so cruel?

A letter to those who rejoice in hurting trans people

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The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893): public domain image

This is a departure from the usual. Not so much article, as open letter to those who sit on the anti-trans side of UK politics. It is both an ask and an expression of incredulity. Because I cannot believe how you can do what you do: inflict cruelty after cruelty on people you have never met and are never likely to. Yet still feel righteous in your hate.

It is a letter to friends I once had “that side of the wall”. Women, mostly, with whom I broke bread, and shared my house. Women with whom I campaigned, long and hard, against male violence. Against rape. Against social exclusion.

You knew me once. You knew who I am, how I am: in truth you still do. You know, should know, I am not the monster depicted by the gender police. How are you not ashamed to be where you are now?

It is letter, too, to those who never have been friends: who presume to know me from sound-bites picked out of context and random slurs repeated and repeated on social media until no-one can remember where they came from.

I do not get you: I do not get any of you. Over here, this side of the wall, the effects you have had, are continuing to have, are devastating. Daily I catalogue trans people, not just young trans people, but folks settled for decades, in abject fear, because of all that you are doing. From constant nit-picking, to interference in every single aspect of people’s lives.

Ordinary people, unable to sleep because of the nightmares they are having: nightmares of your creation. I have spoken to people frightened, in tears, suicidal.

No surprise, perhaps, that when we do not hear from someone for a few days, the first thought of those who care within our community, is to call. To make sure that they are OK: are still there.

I know that some of you will gloat over this. Or dismiss any admission of hurt and vulnerability as manipulative. I do not understand that either. Have you no compassion?

Or rather, I guess I do understand, in part. You do not believe we are who we say we are: who medical experts say we are; a real expression of socio-biological difference.

Yet we are not “doing trans” to own you or replace women — and when you think of it, the 20,000 or so people, who are all the trans women there are in the UK, would have a hard time doing that! We are doing it because “it” is who we are. All we want are some minor accommodations to allow us to go about our daily lives in peace. We’re not interested in debating abstract essentialist philosophies.

Though I guess if you really believe ALL of transness is some elaborate sexual digression, and you know better than established science in this area, that makes sense. I mean, it HAS to be that, because if you really did see us as people, how could you do what you do?

It is that same rhetoric, belief, dogma…I have no idea what to call it…that allows you to be so cruel to trans kids. Because, of course there is risk of treating a child as trans. There is risk in every single aspect of life, from bearing children to deciding to use contraception. But there is also, many times greater, the risk of treating a trans child as not trans.

First because of the insult to their personal integrity, their sense of worth. Second because of the literal pain, in terms of increased surgery you enforce upon those made to go through an unwanted puberty.

How can you? And if, perhaps, one of you found yourselves one day parent to such a child, would you treat them as harshly? Would you, as one of your number once advocated, recommend making them sit down beside you and watch porn in order to re-educate them?

My mind cannot go there. Perhaps I am old-fashioned enough to ask “who, if their child shall ask for bread will offer a stone instead?” I cannot comprehend the coldness, the sheer unmitigated cruelty in which so many of your number seem to revel.

What more can I say? I do not understand why you are working with some of the most regressive elements in society, who hate not just trans people, but women and LGB folks too. I do not, in the name of all that is commonsense, understand why you would support court actions whose endgame will be the reduction in rights for all minorities, yourselves included.

I do not understand how you can support monsters, masquerading as global statesmen, in furtherance of your anti-trans agenda. I saw you when you praised Trump for owning the trans: saw you, too, when you got into bed with anti-abortion groups and violent neo-fascists in Ireland to own the trans.

And I saw you this very week, when your writings gave succour to Russia, the same day their police were beating up LGBT folks and feminists. To own the trans.

I guess you believe you are exceptional: that once you have “owned the trans”, no principle accepted in pursuit of that goal can possibly be retro-fitted to remove your rights. Oh: how wrong you are!

I do not understand you.

Still, I do not hate you. That is not me

Nor, though, can I feel sorry for you. I try. But it is hard when every day I see the hurt you are causing.

I wish I could be as harsh, as hard in my response. But I can’t.

In the end, all I can do is ask that some of you — maybe just one of you — will remember who you were before you started down this path and recover some sense of basic humanity.

I have nothing more to say

Musical Note: Easy to be hard

Easy to be Hard, from the original Broadway Cast Recording of Hair, sung by Lynn Kellogg

For those puzzled by the lyrical references scattered across this letter, a short explainer. I am old: perhaps not quite as old as days, but old enough that my cultural hinterland includes milestone musicals like Hair.

It’s a masterpiece and an overwhelming dissection not just of the Vietnam war, raging when first it performed, but also of the tensions within the anti-war hippy communities. Specifically, the gulf between publically espoused values of love, peace and harmony, and private selfishness and ego.

Easy to be Hard is a difficult song, not just in itself, but also in its context. The set-up is a relationship between two characters: Berger and Sheila. Berger wants Sheila for sex, nothing more: his only interest in her is physical. But Sheila loves Berger, and he feels smothered.

So he does what men have long done to avoid a relationship: he diverts. He acts like a complete jerk, treating her badly, insulting her. He is abusive. In an early version of the script he rapes her: but given the wider public controversy over the show, perhaps this was just one taboo too far. Though oddly, almost exact contemporary musicals Oliver! and Man of La Mancha see their female leads, respectively Nancy and Aldonza, abused, violated and, in Nancy’s case, murdered. But off-stage. This is a children’s musical, after all!

Sheila tries to laugh off Berger’s viciousness. In the end, though she bites back in Easy to be Hard, a song that is the very essence of bitter.

With that in mind, do click the link above and listen. I still do, and whenever I play it, it makes me sad, sometimes tearful.

It is not a perfect illustration of my words. What song could be? Still, it relates: and the lyrics bring to mind questions I constantly ask of the anti-trans:

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel

Feminist, writer, campaigner on political and sexual liberty who also knows a bit about IT, the law and policing. Not entirely serious…

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