Trans Safety Network (TSN), launched publicly in October 2020, is a group of trans people who research and publish data on transphobic campaigns. Organise spoke to them about the group, and the wider climate of transphobia in the UK.
Why did you form TSN?
A lot of us have been either following or otherwise engaged by the rapid increase in anti-trans hate campaigning going on. A great deal of this is well known and written about, in terms of the “TERF War”, but increasingly we noticed other mobilisations. These were hidden from most peoples awareness. Less active on social media, but very active in other ways; lobbying government, establishing networks of conversion practitioners, producing books full of “alternative facts” about the history of trans people, harassing trans academics, and leafleting door-to-door.
What made us finally come together and start TSN was hearing reports from friends, who knew school teachers, about strange DVDs about the Transgender Agenda. We wanted to investigate and expose where they were coming from more comprehensively.When we investigated further, the DVDs turned out to be coming from the Christian creationist group Truth In Science1.
What are the biggest threats to Trans safety in the UK at present?
The biggest threat to trans safety and well-being in the UK right now is institutional - the British government have made no secret of the fact they are willing to drag out trans rights issues with inquiry after inquiry. All for the sake of a (even by Tory standards) pointless culture war, that infringes on the supposed small government civil liberties they’d normally love. The NHS is both failing to defend care for trans people in court, and failing to provide it in the clinic. Healthcare training teaching doctors how to interact with trans patients sensitively was pulled on the basis of a moral panic, local councils have withdrawn equality guidance under legal threats from anti-trans activists while waiting for a far right Tory party to show leadership. In the public narrative, there’s a lot of focus on TERFs as mobilisers of all of this but they simply would not be as influential and powerful as they are without significant backing from the right wing press and sympathetic MPs and Lords (in both the Tory and Labour parties). In the end it comes down to power and resources. Anti-trans campaigns have powerfully stifled trans voices from media, driven trans women out of public roles, and are having a chilling effect on trans health and sociology research, while Oxford University funds conspiracy theories about Jewish Financiers and Big Pharma being “behind Transgender Ideology”2. None of this could happen without the support of institutionalised power in the state, higher education and nationalised healthcare.
How do you feel trans safety relates to other struggles?
The trans community is really small. We know there aren’t many of us, and unlike a lot of other communities we’re often isolated and spread out among communities who are culturally hostile. Right-wing governments have a habit of using us as a scapegoat they can whip to keep their electoral base happy. Left-wing governments offer us platitudes to make themselves look good without really changing anything. Either way the fundamental issue is a lack of trans power/trans liberation. A lot of our historic and pre-existing representative bodies have mainly served to try and incorporate transness into an establishment that has no reason not to treat us cynically. Often in the process they disregard the needs of racialised trans people, trans migrants, trans sex workers, incarcerated trans people, disabled trans people, trans people with care responsibilities etc. Some of the most damaging transphobia comes from bosses, landlords, border agents, cops, psychiatric professionals trying to pathologise us just getting through life. We often can’t rely on services, such as domestic violence, who can exercise power to hurt the most marginalised. Those facing the most serious issues with transphobia urgently need a trans liberation movement built on coalitional and intersectional lines. It’s not enough to just have the government registering approved transgender people on a list. We need liberation!
Regarding intersections with struggles against sexism, much of the debate seems to be about whether feminists are happy to allow trans people to be part of the struggle. People arguing against trans inclusion claim it’s inappropriate for trans people to be included in feminist struggles. Those arguing for inclusion tout its validation. Few debates talk about the necessity of trans inclusion, whether it is necessary for liberation from patriarchal systems. The discussion should not be “do we want trans people to be included” but “in what ways are trans inclusivity and liberation needed for the larger struggle against gendered oppression”.
Transphobia seems one of the most pervasive forms of bigotry amongst the UK’s left and anarchist movements. What do you feel has driven this, and how can it be opposed?
Not sure it is necessarily true that transphobia is more pervasive on the left than other bigotries. Transphobia is certainly highly visible on the left, but other bigotries are sadly still alive and well. There are a lot of ways that the wider left pays lip service to anti-racism but fails black and brown siblings in practice, and there have been major issues with anti-Semitism.
Bigotry isn’t really the most useful way to think about transphobia (or any form of oppression). If we see the left as something that’s being built, who is it being built for, and how does it achieve that? Transphobia is structural: lots of people on the left make platitudes against hate or about the trans women dying in South America, but it often has an exploitative character to it. You show you’re a good leftie by denouncing TERFs or hand-wringing about dead black and brown trans women far away, and in the process you get moral/social value without really doing anything for trans liberation. We need trans liberation built into the roots of radical projects.
Those hostile to trans people have grown increasingly prominent in the past few years. Why do you think that is?
There’s a mixture of factors, particularly in the UK. Transphobia isn’t new at all, nor are TERFs. Many of us have been opposing them for years. We know people who’ve been putting up with them for decades. In the UK, there are probably three things which have come together to make transphobia particularly loud.
Firstly, the UK-based religious right have been movement-building for years, and not just around trans stuff. They’ve organised harassment campaigns, targetting reproductive health clinics (to deter people from abortions), and mobilised large numbers around schools and sex education. Secondly, the trans-national alt-right crowd have been growing, and they are really effective in media operations. Finally, we have the most far-right Tory government in many years, and a profoundly complacent parliamentary left-wing.
What other trans groups are active in the UK at the moment?
There are loads of trans mutual aid groups in the UK, and more popping up pretty regularly. We’ve had a blip as a community, after the implosion of Action for Trans Health, but it’s probably good that these are very much local groups focused on addressing the needs of local communities. If you’re trans and don’t have one locally maybe find some friends and see what you could do about organising one. Talk together and find out what problems trans people are facing in your area and find ways to solve them! Direct action gets the goods.
Do you have any reading or listening recommendations?
Blood and TERF is a really great podcast, well worth listening to.
What sort of things should cis people be doing more of to support trans people?
Make your community spaces actively safe by confronting transphobes. Resist respectability politics. Don’t help spread the smear stories about individual trans people, regardless of if they’ve done something wrong. Don’t treat transphobia like it’s an individual bigotry; it’s social and systemic, and needs to be addressed by dealing with the institutions and systems that make it possible.
How can people support you?
We rely a lot on tips from people who’ve seen transphobic leaflets. We’re hoping to be able to build links with other orgs in the future, with a view to addressing some of the undiscussed intersections between trans liberation and other issues. For instance, black and brown transfeminine public figures are especially singled out for demonisation. We would like to address trans safety in a way that draws attention to the operation of racism, misogyny and transphobia together, rather than treating transphobia as a single issue. This is just one example, we're looking for collaborators who would be interested in putting trans safety in a broader context. ■
2The Political Erasure of Sex was a report funded by Oxford University and authored by TERF activist Jane Clare Jones, it was sent to every MP and Lord in the counry and repeated the antisemitic conspiracy theories of primitivist Jennier Bilek. Briefly discussed in https://transsafety.network/posts/gcs-and-the-right/