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doctors how to interact with trans patients sensitively was pulled on the basis of a moral panic, local councils have withdrawn equality guidance under legal threats from anti-trans activists while waiting for a far right Tory party to show leadership.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/
So you have been called a Transphobe.
Maybe even a TERF! Hot words have been exchanged.
It's easy to get defensive, dig in, camp up and not take any shit from these "woke idiots" on the internet.
Yeah you could do that.
Mind you, you could also have a read and try to understand some of what they are trying to tell you. Here is a reading list of links to help you digest all this new information outside of an angry twitter thread. They range across the scientific and cultural, to news pieces, politicla statements, and informational statistics.
No one can make you read these, no one can force you to develop your understanding of the world around you, only you can take the step to being a person capable of educating themselves and changing their opinion based on new information. I truly hope you are able to do this and begin your journey to better understanding this whole trans thing.
It's worth noting as well that the arguments your transphobic friends and sources present usually utilise are laden with scientific reductionism and pseudo scientific jibberish. This reminds me very much of climate change denialism, these links are often presented as an obvious truth and are used to make you feel like a victim, a defender of the obvious against a self indulgent enemy who is trying to make you change everything you know to be true. The right wing call this "Cultural Marxism", the left wing tend to call it "the PC Brigade" or "IdPol". Tho woefully inaccurate in their usage these terms are often used as a "dog whistle" for horrendous bigotry, racism and misogyny.
Subsequently when you've shared a seemingly righteous link defending women from predatory men or something, someone has got pissed off at you, cussed you out and spewed out all that angry rage which you've been warned about so much.
The thing is, whether wittingly or not, when you share those articles you are finding on Mumsnet or whatnot you are contributing to a hostile environment which very literally kills people. Overwhelming it kills women, and of them, women from the black and minority ethnic communities are over represented.
This series of links is a counter to that, the vast majority are from peer reviewed publications and institutions. If you believe in science, you have to come to terms with the reality that some of the things you have "always known" are false and that our understanding of the world around is ever developing. It is here to provide you with a easily accessable source of information to cleanse that rot from your head. A tool to educate yourself with and hopefully return to being a person who uses their political voice for compassion and solidarity. ■
Peter Ó Maille
- This is a living document and is subject to change and addition, feel free to suggest new links -
- This list is partially based on a version I was sent as a email, I assume it is online and would appreciate a link to it -
American Psychological Association (APA)
Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression
Sciences Says: Sex and Gender Aren't the Same
Skeletal Studies Show Sex, Like Gender, Exists Along A Spectrum
Disrupting Dinner Parties
Take the Red Pill: The Truth Behind the Biology of Sex
Between the (Gender) Lines: The Science of Transgender Identity
Intersex Society of North America
How common is intersex?
What is Intersex?
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
Suicide and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Persons
How Science is Helping Us Understand Gender
Anatomy Does Not Determine Gender, Experts Say
Beyond XX and XY: The Extraordinary Complexity of Sex Determination
Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia
The New Science of Sex and Gender
Where Transgender is No Longer a Diagnosis
Trans Girls Belong on Girls' Sports Teams
Challenging Gender Identity: Biologists Say Gender Expands Across A Spectrum, Rather Than Simply Boy And Girl
World Health Organization (WHO)
Gender and Genetics
Genetic Components of Sex and Gender
Medline Plus Encyclopedia
‘Mahu’ demonstrate Hawaii’s shifting attitudes toward LGBT life
Sex And Gender Are Actually The Same Thing (but bear with me…)
The Ashtime of Ethiopia
A Brief History of Thailand's Transgender Community
Fa'afafines: The Third Gender in Samoa
Life Outside the Binary: Meet Mexico’s Muxe Community Celebrating Genderqueerness
Early men and women were equal, say scientists
In the Philippines they think about gender differently. We could too
Nature and sex redefined – we have never been binary
Indian Country Today
Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders
The 8 Genders of the Talmud
Transgender Issues in the Middle East
Ground rules for trans/transantagonistic discourse
Oxford English Dictionary
A brief history of singular ‘they’
The New York Times
When Japan Had a Third Gender
Non Binary Wiki
Gender-variant identities worldwide
India’s Third Gender Rises Again
The Singapore LGBT encyclopaedia Wiki
Gender in Bugis society
Fact check: study shows transition makes trans people suicidal
The Third Gender in Ancient Egypt
List of of murdered transgender people
Trans Men need abortions too
Transphobia is a Class Issue
You Can't Ask That: Intersex people answer 'What is Intersex?'
The Science of Being Transgender
Things Not To Say To A Non-Binary Person
Trans 101: Ep 1 - What is Transgender?
Fox and Owl
So, I've got a CERVIX
Trans 101 - The Basics
What Are Pronouns?
Trans AND: Charlie Martin
Riley J. Dennis
How to talk about trans people
TEDx (Lyndsay Muir)
Tea with Trans: What's on (and off) the menu.
TEDx (Rachel Lucas)
Why You Can Pee Next To Me
80–95% of trans women keep their genitals
Addressing The Claims In JK Rowling’s Justification For Transphobia, by Katy Montgomerie for Medium
A Letter to J.K. Rowling From A Young Transgender Person Who’s Sick of Her Shit, by Hayden Moon for Junkee
Freedom Means Can Rather Than Should: What the Harper’s Open Letter Gets Wrong, by Gabrielle Bellot for Lit Hub
Twitter thread breaking down the issues in the Harper’s letter, by @spiantado
J.K. Rowling Triples Down on Transphobia, by Claire Lampen for The Cut
JK Rowling’s ‘TERF Wars’ YouTube video by Jammidodger
Transgender hate crimes recorded by police go up 81%
Why Sex Is Not Binary
On August 12th, a new social media platform Spinster, targeted at creating a safe space for transphobic speech was launched promoting itself as "Free Speech for Feminists". It immediately came under questions from trans advocates and anti fascists for its connections to Alt-Right social media networks. Within a week it had onboarded over 4500 users, the vast majority of them drawn from the "Gender Critical" movement, and instances had been seen of users dehumanising and promoting the murder of trans people.
A bit of background on alternative social media
The first alarms were raised pre-launch over the developers unusual choice to base their platform on the source code for Gab. Gab was founded originally as a safe space for far right internet personalities and activists ejected from major social media platforms in the wake of protests that tech companies had been too soft on fascist content, making Gab a sort of neo nazi replacement for Twitter and Facebook. While this created a temporary clubhouse for extreme right wing content dominated by open celebrations of lynching, genocide, holocaust denial and more, Gab has since been trying to find ways to re-connect its userbase with the more mainstream social media by converting the site to link into the open source Mastodon, an decentralised social media platform where different instances are able to regulate themselves as part of a wider federated network. Gab presents itself as simply being a "Free Speech" fundamentalist network, but its origins, far right userbase, and history of connections with neo-nazi mass killers have meant that much of the rest of the "Fediverse" (the federation of other autonomous servers which make up the Mastodon network) have blocked Gab aligned servers.
So where do feminists come into this
After the digital blockade against gab, it's founder Andrew Torba called out for supporters to set up a range of instances which would federate with Gab in order to ensure there was a viable social media ecosystem. Gab is perfectly functional as it's own unit, open to registration by anyone on the internet, but it's founder and backers have chosen to present the choice of fascism intolerant instances to defederate as being "against free speech".
One of those individuals to answer the call was Alex Gleason (screenshot of him saying immediately "I'm planning to set up an instance).
A few days later, his girlfriend Mary Kate Fain lost her job at a software cooperative in response to her publication of transphobic blog posts, and the pair of them launched Spinster for testing. The couple are well known for their work in the animal liberation circuit. Fain is now the CEO of spinster and Alex appears to be handling day to day technical maintenance.
When questioned about why the developers chose to adapt their code from Gab instead of the mainstream mastodon codebase, Spinster tried to explain it away as simply a preference for Gab's user interface. After the first week, when Spinster's app (a clone of the already banned app Gab) was removed from the Google Play Store for openly refusing to curb hate speech in user generated content, Spinster immediately reached out to the Gab development account precipitating offers of help and suggestions to integrate more closely with Gab's app infrastructure. (Screen shots available of them @ing the @[email protected] account).
This demonstrates one of the big concerns with Spinster: that by choosing to open a platform deliberately linked with an alt right platform, their fate, with their codebase and need to maintain daily operations is tied up with Gab's.
But there's more to it than that
It's clear from Gleason's posts (and patreon) that he presents himself as a left-anarchist and sees this whole project as part of creating some libertarian free speech autonomous zone, but he also repeatedly devolves into Red-Brown daydreaming, minimised the killing of Heather Heyer as merely an incident of "Male Violence" and has suggested that anti-fascism is a form of sexual perversion.
From the way he addresses his far right colleagues on Gab it is clear he sees them as allies to his work and is trying to overthrow the injustices created by "leftists" and "SJWs" by allying himself with them. Somehow trans people's existence, claims to space in our communities and safety from violence have become emblematic of all of the issues he has with the left.
From a bigger picture point of view this amounts to an enormous pull of feminists ranging from those who are merely skeptical of trans activism to those who are outright hostile to it being pulled into a space adjacent to and endorsed by the far right. Due to the decision to fork (adapt) Gab's code, much of the app infrastructure and the Mastodon network itself has already cut spinster off in anticipation that this is simply an offshoot of a far right project that needs to be isolated - meaning that the women drawn to this platform are likely to be targetted by even more concentrated efforts to recruit them to the right.
This is following a well tried and tested pattern of publicity where Gleason presents the likely future cutting off of Spinster (as a Gab satellite) as a form of misogyny - specifically silencing women's voices. Like with Gab this claim falls hollow - the women using Spinster are as able to speak their minds as freely as they like (so long as they follow the Spinster moderation policy - racism, sexism, ablism, even animal cruelty are banned, everything is covered in their policy other than transphobia!) whether other servers in the Mastodon network choose to federate with them or not. But this narrative nevertheless serves to help create an atmosphere of shared victimhood with all those silenced fascists on Gab all the same.
How has it panned out
It's early days still but we've already seen incidents of the fascist attitudes amongst users. In one instance, noted TERF Posie Parker described trans women as insects crawling around on flypaper. In another, a stills taken from film of a trans woman's murder was celebrated as righteous justice using a fictional narrative about her having entered a women's toilet, and this false narrative was used to promote more widespread transphobic action (screenshots available). It is yet to be seen how relations will develop between users on Spinster and users on Gab. ■
This story was written by a source who wished to remain Anonymous. If you would like to contribute and expand upon it please send an email to [email protected]
This article is a call to action to protect and defend the trans community.
There is no space for neutrality.
We strongly suggest you listen to G.L.O.S.S. when reading this article.
[This article is lifted directly from the original zine format which you can download below.]
WHAT ARE TERFS?
TERFs, otherwise known as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, are people who refuse to accept transgender identities, and who violently oppress trans people, especially trans women.
Many TERFs will claim they believe in trans rights and that trans people should be protected from violence. However, they incorrectly believe that people's biology (e.g. genitals and chromosomes) determine their gender and whether they experience sexism and gender -based violence. Their ideology results in them refusing to accept trans women as women and discriminating against them by excluding them from spaces cis women can go to.
Anyone who supports or promotes these ideas – whether it’s attending events in person, sharing online, or any number of other questionable methods – is, in our view, a TERF.
Transphobia: hatred of trans people (although in this zine we try to use more precise words e.g. trans hostile, or trans derogatory).
Trans misogyny: form of sexism aimed particularly at trans women and trans feminine people.
Dead naming :referring to someone by a former name they no longer use.
Mis-gendering: using the wrong pronouns.
Cis: people who aren’t trans/ are assigned the appropriate gender at birth.
MEET THE TERFS
TERFs come in many shapes and sizes. Here are a few groups on the scene at the moment.
A Women's Place
They Say: “violence against women & sex discrimination still exist. Women need reserved places, separate spaces and distinct services”
But: Deny that trans women are women, question trans existence, and encourage trans misogyny.
They Say: “We are a group of parents based in the UK, who are concerned about the current trend to diagnose “gender non-conforming children” as transgender.”
But: Encourage parents to disbelieve and dismiss their trans children's identities; intensifying gender dysphoria.
They Say: “We provide a unique perspective on male violence against women”
But: Intentionally mis-gender and dead name trans women and deny the existence of trans people.
We Need To Talk About Sex
They Say: “We discuss the Gender Recognition Act and its impact on the rights of women and children”
But: Target and harass trans women, deny that trans women are women and, mis-gender and dead trans women on purpose.
Mayday for Women
They Say: “Mayday are a collective of women who have come together to: Oppose the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, Stand up for women's rights and defend women's freedom of speech”
But: Campaign against self-identification from trans people, promote ideas that being transgender is idealogical brainwashing and intentionally mis-gender trans women.
Fair Play for Women and Girls
They Say: “We are a group of ordinary women who are concerned that in the rush to reform transgender laws that women's voices will not be listed to”
But: Promote lies about the trans community, campaign for trans women to go to male prisons and erase trans identities.
Lesbian Rights Alliance
They Say: “[We] defend lesbian rights to have same sex relationships and defend lesbian and women only space and stop the erasure of lesbians”
But: Intentionally mis-gender trans women, promote ideas that trans men are “sick”, and blame trans people for the oppression of lesbians.
THE DANGER OF TERFS
TERFs may be a fringe group, but they tap into the trans-hostile and trans misogynistic views held by many, across the political spectrum. They are not the first hate group to hide under the guise of left wing struggle. We’ve seen it with right wing nationalists and racists working their way into the animal rights movement. Like Gays Against Sharia, TERFs weaponize victim status to demonize and encourage hatred. These are not views that can be “discussed” or “debated”. They even attend anarchist events to campaign for more repressive state laws (can anybody see the irony there?)
They rely on a mixture of clever wording and a hope that the majority don't really understand what they are talking about. They are hiding under a thin disguise what is nothing more than hate speech. They aim to isolate and exclude trans people. They erase trans identities and fuel already high levels of violence against trans women.
This violence is predominantly targeted at trans women from working class backgrounds because TERFs campaign to exclude trans women from women's prisons and refuges which disproportionately affects trans women on the bread line. We all know prisons aren't full of rich people, and the rich rarely find themselves without a roof over their head. And given the institutional racism that both lands disproportionate numbers of people of colour in prison and excludes them from accessing services, it’s safe to assume that trans women of colour are particularly affected by the words and actions of TERFs.
For these reasons and more, we don’t see the struggle against TERFs as a struggle soley for trans women, or even the trans community as a whole. It’s also a part of the class struggle, the feminist struggle, the anti-racist struggle, the prison abolitionist struggle and a struggle for anyone who doesn’t want their group to be co-opted by right wing hate dweebs.
DEALING WITH TERFS
We must no platform and resist TERFs. This can be done in many ways, such as:
Organize demos when TERFs arrange to speak: sometimes their events are held in secret, and it may be necessary to buy a ticket. There are pros and cons to this; but if you decide to, use a fake name and email. Remember to cover your face at demos like this – TERFs will try to film you and then target you. Try to get Legal Observers on hand too, for when the pesky cops show up.
Proactive myth busting: hold events, talk to people, share stuff written by trans writers on social media, or whatever works for you!
Calling Out TERFs: when you hear TERFy stuff, or see it on social media. If people won’t engage, exclude them from your groups.
Support Trans prisoners: show solidarity with trans people incarcerated by the state by writing to people inside (check out Bent Bars project) or raising money to support their legal cases and other needs (Empty Cages Collective can give you pointers there).
It is most important to offer one another support as we organize. TERFs try to pick out individuals, they try to isolate us from one another. But this will not succeed if we prioritize caring for one another.
SHALL WE TALK ABOUT VIOLENCE?
When talking about this situation, we feel it is crucial to consider the levels of violence and oppression the TERFs are campaigning to be inflicted by the state and other elements of society on trans women.
They are campaigning for a world where trans women are refused appropriate refuge from abusive partners and dangerous situations, knowing full well the disproportionate levels of violence aimed at trans women. They seek to maintain a system in which women are sent to male prisons -a place we have lost far too many trans sisters in thelast 2 years alone. And this is just what they are openly campaigning for, without mentioning the obvious trans-hostile undertones and side agendas that they are less public about.
When opposing TERFs, protestors have experienced intense levels of trans-derogatory verbal abuse and physical violence. Whilst we are in no way telling people they should be violent, nor that it is the only effective tactic, we think it would be counter-productive and insensitive to condemn violence used in the fight against trans-hate given the real life dangers trans people face. For some this is an ideological, philosophical or academic fight but for people like us it’s a fight to exist -so don't be so quick to judge the methods used by some of our allies and comrades.
“But SCIENCE!!!!” TERFs say that chromosomes are an absolute indicator of gender and that science thus “proves” that trans people can’t exist. BUT the reality of biology is much more complicated, “Biologists have never been under the illusion that genes and chromosomes are all there is to the biology of sex.” (Sarah Richardson, Sex Itself)
“Trans as a new/ modern idea.”TERFs claim that being trans was “invented” in the early 20thcentury by a patriarchal medical system. BUT in fact trans people have been known in many different cultures around the world and throughout history.
“Trans women are socialized as men.”TERFs say trans women are raised as male making them violent, patriarchal aggressors BUT many undergo social transition as young as 5, and/or have lived as women longer than they have as men. Even those who do come out later don’t experience growing up in the same way as cis men and are usually more critical of the way they were raised.
“Trans people are obsessed with conforming to gender stereotypes,”according to TERFs. BUT its not realistic for trans people to dress how they would ideally like –some elements of gender conforming are necessary for safety and well being. Despite the risks many trans people still resist gender stereotypes and thus aren’t recognized as trans, making it easier for TERFs to gloss over this fact.
“You’ll grow out of it/regret it.” Saying these sorts of things does not have the effect of saving people from surgery, it just delays or even stops trans people from accessing the services they need. Whats more, there are many different ways of being trans not all of which involve the same amount of surgery, or necessarily any surgery at all. (SPOILER ALERT: if you’re ever tempted to ask a trans person whether they’ve thought about this –YES THEY HAVE).
“Changing the gender recognition act will harm cis women.”TERFs have been rallying around the claim that changes to the Gender Recognition Act will put women at risk as it will allow men to enter women-only spaces. This is false. Several countries, including Ireland, Norway and Denmark, have already passed laws to allow trans people to determine their own legal gender with great success.
In any case, trans women are already using women’s toilets in the UK. They are also already accessing services via women’s refuges. This is because the Equalities Act 2010 recognises “gender reassignment”as a protected characteristic, and protects against trans people from being discriminated against when using facilities appropriate to their gender identity. Changes to the Gender Recognition Act will make no difference. ■
This zine/article was written by Sister Not Cister UK, An organisation who are angry with the recent rise of anti-trans feminism and organise workshops and media to help educate people on the issues around transphobia.
You can visit their Facebook account by clicking here.
You can visit their website by clicking here.
You can download the zine in print format below:-
[Content warning: In addition to transphobia in the abstract, this piece discusses harassment, violence and abuse. Some sources linked to for reference purposes feature transphobic abuse and slurs.]
Transphobia is a class issue. By this I mean that in a class society that is also deeply transphobic, it is impossible to talk about transphobia in a meaningful way without also talking about class. Trans people are more likely, all other things being equal, than our cis peers to fall into the most exploited and oppressed sections of the working class and the extent to which transphobia will negatively affect any given trans person’s life will be mediated by their economic class. This article is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of every aspect of this issue, but to contribute to an ongoing conversation around it and illustrate a class struggle perspective on transgender issues.
By transphobia I mean two related phenomena:
These two types of transphobia are not strictly distinct and one often creates or reinforces the other.
Often when discussing transphobia popular discourse focuses on overt, interpersonal hostility and street level violent hate crime. While these are indeed real and very serious issues, this focus on the interpersonal and the overt often leads to a failure to recognise the measurable economic effects of transphobia on trans lives. This constitutes a form of hidden, endemic, systematic violence against working class trans people.
A 2015 EU report found that trans people in the EU were more likely than their cis peers to be in the bottom 25% of earners and that around a third of trans people reported experiencing workplace discrimination in the year leading up to the survey and a similar proportion had experienced discrimination while looking for housing. Unsurprisingly, given high levels of workplace discrimination and general social stigma, trans people are disproportionately more likely to experience unemployment. Emma Rundall carried out a survey of trans people as part of her 2010 PhD thesis and found that 14% of respondents were unemployed, around two and a half times the then national unemployment rate (pp 139 of thesis), this is consistent with a general trend in the literature for higher rates of unemployment amongst trans people.
Housing discrimination and high rates of family rejection and abuse also lead to higher rates of homelessness for LGBTQ people as a whole and particularly LGBTQ youth. A 2015 report by the Albert Kennedy Trust  found that LGBTQ youth were “grossly over-represented within youth homeless populations”, stating that one in four young homeless people were LGBTQ, the report also found that a majority of young LGBTQ homeless people reported rejection or abuse at home as a major factor in their homelessness, with an overwhelming majority of housing providers failing to recognise the unique and specific needs of this marginalised community for housing support. Specific figures for trans people alone in the UK are difficult to find, however in Canada, a culturally similar developed nation, the research and community organisation Trans Pulse carried out a study of health outcomes in 123 trans people aged 16-24, with a view to measuring the effect of parental support. All respondents reporting “strongly supportive” parents reported being adequately housed, however, almost half of the two thirds of respondents who did not have strongly supportive parents were “inadequately housed” (homeless or in a precarious housing situation), around one third of the total sample.
As well as the economic effects of transphobia itself, we can also consider the intersections of transphobia and class, i.e. the ways in which class and transphobia interact and magnify each others’ effects; the greater financial resilience of the middle and boss classes, the ability of wealthier trans people to buy their way out of some forms of transphobia, the classed nature of the bureaucracies that trans people are often forced to navigate and the elevation of privileged voices within the broader trans community as the authentic voices of all trans people.
A core component of transphobia at present is medical gatekeeping, the process by which trans people are forced to jump through semi-arbitrary hoops in order to access certain kinds of trans specific healthcare. In Sex Educations: Gendering and Regendering Women Lisa Milbank discusses real life experience (RLE), a period of time in which trans people are expected to present “full time” as their gender in order to access certain kinds of healthcare, as a form of socially enforced “breaking” in which trans women are subjected to “an experience of public freakhood, composed of constant stares, transphobic harassment and potentially violence, without access to much of the (intensely double-edged) training given to cissexual women on how to survive this”, while Milbank focuses on the experience of transsexual women in particular, this also applies to some extent to the experience of other trans people. One’s ability to pass as cis (to be read by most people as a cis person of one’s appropriate gender) will heavily influence the extent to which RLE is a dangerous and potentially traumatic experience. Since passing as cis takes the form, in part, of being able to perform conventional cis norms, which are themselves heavily classed (and racialised), a trans person’s ability to do so will be mediated by their class status. I.e. the wealthier a person is, the more likely they are to be able to afford to take additional, elective steps (extensive hair removal, specialised clothing to hide or accentuate particular gendered body traits, etc.) to increase their chance of passing as cis. In this way, middle class and boss class trans people are more easily able to navigate gatekeeping in order to access healthcare and sidestep the harmful effects of RLE in a transphobic society. Similarly, since transphobia often takes the form of institutional and economic discrimination and/or family and community rejection, an individual trans person’s financial security becomes their ability to cope with isolation financially and to remove themselves from harmful situations (e.g. a neighbourhood in which they are frequently harassed or a family home in which they are rejected or abused) is key to their ability to survive and thrive in a transphobic society. While all trans people experience and are harmed by transphobia, the extent of that harm will inevitably be strongly classed.
To live as a trans person in today’s society is to frequently find ourselves bumping against the various bureaucracies that serve as its basis, from things as theoretically simple as changing one’s legal name to navigating the complaints procedures of government departments or companies in order to secure some kind of accountability for another instance of transphobia. While this is, in theory, something anybody can learn to do, these bureaucratic institutions are complex and exclusionary by design and often function to favour middle class people. In this way, yet again working class trans people suffer an additional burden from transphobia.
So given that trans people are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty and transphobia’s worst effects are experienced most by working class people, why is this not a part of the media discourse on trans people? Why are some of the most prominent media trans voices wealthy, right wing figures like Caitlyn Jenner? Part of this is precisely because transphobia is strongly classed; as discussed above the wealthiest people will find it easiest to “pass” and meet the standards of conformity to cis-heteronormative standards expected of professional voices in the media. Equally it is the case that middle class and rich trans people are simply more likely to have the necessary connections to be a major media presence. Where it includes trans voices at all, mainstream discourse on trans issues is dominated by an unrepresentative minority of wealthy, white, middle class, trans women. It would be remiss of me not to note an obvious irony here since, while I am far from wealthy and never have been, as a white postgrad student I am myself far from representative of the majority of trans people and, in my defence, I do not claim to be.
A common means of dismissing trans people’s attempts to raise issues that affect us or criticise institutions or public figures that have harmed us as a group is to dismiss us as privileged. Trans people are a bunch of middle class kids or a load of wealthy university students who are just looking for something to complain about. For example, after the well-established journalist Suzanne Moore went on a bizarre, transphobic tirade on Twitter in response to criticism over the wording in one of her articles, fellow career journalist Julie Burchill wrote a piece, initially published in the Observer but eventually withdrawn and then republished by Spiked, which while largely consisting of a series of transphobic slurs also perfectly illustrated this ideological tendency. After claiming that she and other transphobic journalists are “part of the tiny minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street”, Burchill goes on to depict trans people as academics with “big swinging PhDs”, attempting to silence working class cis women by arguing about “semantics” (the semantics in this case being Moore’s use of “Brazilian transsexuals”, a group plagued by particularly high levels of poverty and violence, as a throwaway pejorative). While trans academics certainly exist, we are far from the majority of trans people or even trans activists, nor are we necessarily as highly privileged as Burchill would like to suggest. By engaging in this erasure of working class trans people, transphobes are able to both trivialise the serious, material effects of transphobia as discussed above and rhetorically exclude trans people from the working class.
In her excellent 2008 essay ‘Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony – Its an Empirical Fact’ – A response to Slavoj Žižek, Sara Ahmed points out that racism is often projected onto the white working class, with liberal prohibitions on overt bigotry serving merely as a means to locate bigotry in some marginalised other. We see a similar process with transphobia, bigotry against trans people is positioned as definitively working class, and thus the existence of working class trans people can be ignored as impossible by definition. A well paid Observer journalist can mock trans people en masse as middle class kids, obsessed with identity politics, because everybody knows that real working class people are white, cishet and hostile to anybody who is not white or cishet. The reality, of course, is that this image of an “ordinary” working class as the default is a fantasy, the working class is a weird, wonderful and diverse class and only a politics that recognises the many and varied ways in which we experience exploitation and oppression can allow us to build a movement to end oppression, end exploitation and ultimately abolish class itself. ■