Stop that! It’s silly!

It’s well past time to call “Time!” on “debates” that treat complex issues like a High School popularity contest

Social media encourages the personal to the detriment of all else. So questions about human rights or trans dignity are increasingly boiled down to whether you support Team Rowling — or not. This is just silly: and it is high time it stopped!

Ah. The joy of Press reviewing! It opens your eyes not just to the more bizarre world trends, but also how reporting works: not only how the press reports on trans people but also of what they do not.

The doings of minor celebs, from Caitlyn Jenner to Jessica Alves are in constant telephoto focus, as is any hint of rebelliousness from those evil Trans Rights Activists. Meanwhile, violence and discrimination against actual trans people here in the UK is neatly airbrushed aside.

The last week has seen an escalation in what can only be termed “celeb wars”. First out the gate was a ragbag assortment of “over 50 actors, writers, playwrights, journalists” pledging support to the much persecuted JK Rowling. The roll call of big names included Ian McEwan, Eddie Redmayne, and John Cleese (more on him, later!).

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Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton (1901): public domain in UK and USA

All very medieval. My mind boggled at the image of Graham Linehan — one of the lesser names on that list — kneeling before the Queen of Questionable Quote-tweet to swear fealty and offer his sword in her defence.

A day or so later “more than 200 writers and publishers” signed a letter in support of trans and non-binary people. Then, a further 1,300 rocked up to say nice things about us.

Yay! We outnumber the terfs, transphobes, gender crits, whatever you call them. The time to strike is now! Let’s cut ’em off at the pass! Or maybe meet them on the field of battle. See you at the Black Gate, mates!

Perhaps not. This is no way to run a serious piss-up, let alone any sort of debate, even allowing the validity of such debate in the first place. It is also very misleading.

Take Eddie Redmayne, about whom some pretty unfriendly things have been posted on social media this last week. He condemned the “vitriol” directed at Rowling and…he has a point. Because some of what has been sent her way has been unacceptable. I’m not going to nitpick whether it is possible to “bully” an individual worth several hundred million, and followed by over 14 million on Twitter. I leave that to the mainstream media to ignore.

But jibes and gentle mockery are one thing: death threats and some of the more outlandish attacks another. Even were they not, it does not help anyone’s cause to direct public discourse on trans rights down this intellectual dead end.

The worst I would say of Redmayne is that he has a cisnormative outlook. However much we would like to hope he learnt something from playing a trans woman he is, after all, cis.

Worse, it risks deepening the isolation of trans communities. The worst I would say of Redmayne is that he has a cisnormative outlook. However much we would like to hope he learnt something from playing a trans woman he is, after all, cis. He is not invested in the fate of trans people in quite the same way as trans people are. He sees a woman under attack who, for all her faults, is a key player in his career right now. So, honestly? How do you expect him to react?

In this, I would distinguish Redmayne from Linehan, who does seem to be pursuing a very particular agenda, and Rupert Everett, who was also out there complaining that the focus on trans folk meant no-one was talking about gay stuff any more. Really? And that is the fault of trans people how?

And then there is John Cleese, of whom the best that can be said is that he seems confused. At any rate, that seems politest description for someone who was cited on one and the same day as backing JK Rowling in trans row and …attacking the SNP’s proposed new hate crime law with the observation that “People should be less easily upset!

Ri-ight! Would the real John Cleese please stand up?

Let’s cut to the chase. There are some very real issues right now affecting trans people. Access to healthcare. Discrimination. A resurgence in on-street violence. The fact that some people choose to make this all about them is not just distraction, but deliberate tactic.

Hashtags to the effect that someone supports or “stands with” this or that transphobe may be exciting in a “my gang’s bigger than yours” kind of way. But it obscures the real issues. Worse, it leads to people driving those who are only mildly trans-sceptic or uninformed or cisnormative straight into the arms of those who really do wish us ill.

Hashtags to the effect that someone supports or “stands with” this or that transphobe may be exciting in a “my gang’s bigger than yours” kind of way. But it obscures the real issues.

That, too, is deliberate. Read Amy Dyess. Or just watch them at work on Twitter. Someone who does not understand the issues declares their support for a big-name celeb because, like Redmayne, they don’t really understand why folks are being so horrid to them.

Trans folks and allies pile in, pile on. The inconsiderate tweeter doubles down, cannot understand why trans people are being so horrid to them. At the same time, the gender crits swarm: with honeyed words and concerned buzz they are there to offer sympathy to the poor innocent. They lovebomb them!

And sure: the tweeter may not be all that innocent. They may well be guilty of thoughtless posting, mansplaining or generally being a dick (this applies equally to male and female posters). But the damage is done. Meanwhile, the press is lurking ready to pounce: because they just love to paint trans folks as unreasonable, vicious and potentially violent.

We have to stop doing this. Rowling is no friend to trans people in the wider sense — no matter that one or two of her best friends may be trans. It is nice to know that in a celeb showdown, we seem to have more celebs onside than she has. But in the end, all that is meaningless.

We need to win arguments in the places where it matters: before politicians, the courts and public bodies.

#IStandWithCampaigning

All other stands, or, more likely, sits I leave to the armchair warriors.

Written by

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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