Vociferous transphobia has become endemic to parts of the UK media in recent months. (I’d love to know why, but I won’t speculate about that here.) Some of the articles that appear in the right-wing press, especially the tabloids, are so obviously full of hate that there’s no escaping the intent of the authors (or at least the authors’ paymasters). Other articles make superficially reasonable arguments about ‘competing rights’ (for women, children etc.) and pretend to be broadly sympathetic to trans people.
Across the entire spectrum of transphobic articles, there are distortions, half-truths and biased framings that crop up repeatedly. In particular, there are a number of dog-whistle phrases and tropes that are used over and over again. I’ve picked out a few of these from some articles over the past week or two – from a UK broadsheet, a Scottish newspaper (this is a much more recent phenomenon in the Scottish press) and a local newspaper.
Content warning: some of the following may be upsetting, in particular for trans people.
The Sunday Times
Andrew Gilligan’s article on women’s refuges (behind a paywall, with limited free access) is pretty typical of the almost incessant stream of transphobic – mainly transmisogynistic – bile that has spewed forth from the Times and Sunday Times over the past few months, often under the guise of feminism. Rupert Murdoch’s UK broadsheets outrank even the wretched tabloid Daily Mail as the reading matter of choice for those who have a visceral hatred of trans people and would really rather we didn’t exist.
- biological men – referring to trans women. Yes, we may have been assigned male at birth, but we are women. Most people tend to be biological.
- by women for women – referring to a change in who refuges are run by and for, strongly hinting that in the columnist’s view trans women are not women.
- change sex on demand/sex-change – outdated and inaccurate language, with ‘on demand’ adding a slightly desperate note.
- activists – transgender people who want to be treated as human beings are almost always ‘activists’, it seems.
- male organs – you mean male kidneys, whatever they might be? Oh, you mean typical male genitalia. Why didn’t you just say so? And why should anyone care (or have an automatic right to know) about someone else’s genitals?
- employment … without a gender recognition certificate – actually, an employer can’t legally ask to see a GRC.
- staff who, to all intents and purposes, are men – the obligatory quote from a trans-unaware person, to make the views expressed seem more reasonable.
- born female – referring to cis women – and implicitly excluding trans women.
The first clearly transphobic article I became aware of in the Scottish press was an unpleasant piece by Shona Craven just over a couple of weeks ago in the National. (This is also behind a limited-free-access paywall.)
- Women must not be silenced – the headline repeats the common mantra. Trans people are apparently so powerful in comparison to the cis majority that they are able to silence women (by which we are to understand cis women – trans women are presumably not thought to be silencing themselves).
- held amid much secrecy … in case there was violence – a narrative is being spun, rather successfully, by a small group of cis feminists, that (cis) women are under threat from trans women (or ‘transwomen’ as they like to call us, like some alien species), because to them we are violent men trying to invade women’s spaces.
- biological sex – much less black-and-white than most people think and not the same thing as gender. Isn’t feminism in part about not reducing women to their reproductive systems?
- you must be a bigot … you should go and choke on a dick – random insults-to-self from no one in particular, to justify high-security cis-women-only events.
- female biology – as an explanation for gender-based oppression.
- boys can play with dolls and girls with cars – yes, we know, and I’m totally in favour of eliminating such gender stereotypes. But that’s really nothing to do with gender identity or gender dysphoria. A typical red herring.
- cis lesbian – the only unacceptable identity in our culture, apparently. As a trans lesbian, I find that notion utterly bizarre.
- “cis” – a term evoking ‘an audible hiss of disapproval’. Refusal to accept the term is akin to refusal to accept the existence of trans people. Saying you’re not cis, just ‘normal’, is akin to saying you’re not straight, white or middle class, just ‘normal’.
- “drop the T” – yes, why not throw out this controversial element of the LGBT community (who only began the whole LGBT rights movement in the first place)?
- “preferred pronouns” – scare quotes again. And, anyway, most trans people simply have pronouns, not ‘preferred’ ones.
- total denial of material reality – a claim made by some about trans people. Reverting again to biological essentialism (and not even with a good grasp of modern biological understanding of sex).
- hate … came from the individuals who shouted a woman down – typical portrayal of protesters (with a legitimate cause for concern) as hateful, shouty and misogynistic.
- the word “woman” has no objective meaning – if the government’s GRA reform proposals go ahead, apparently.
- young lesbian girls – at particular risk of losing protections, seemingly, though there is no mention of why. Perhaps an allusion to the laughable idea that cis lesbian girls are being recruited as trans boys?
- Will they put their heads above the parapet to say so? – another allusion to women being silenced, in this case the unsupported allegation that non-trans-accepting women working for Engender, Close The Gap, Rape Crisis Scotland, Equate Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Women 50:50 and Zero Tolerance are afraid to speak out for fear of losing government funding.
More recently Vonny Leclerc has written an article on gender and feminism for the same paper. I have generally enjoyed her contributions, so I found some of her language here slightly disappointing. But I like to give her the benefit of the doubt, as her words suggest she is genuinely wrestling with the issues – and on the whole the article is rather good.
- TERF [is] a slur – a common cry from people who are labelled in this way. OK, the term (meaning trans-exclusionary radical feminist) is problematic (mainly because you have to diagnose radical feminism to use it properly), but when used accurately it’s no more a slur than ‘racist’ or ‘misogynist’.
- born female – offence was (quite reasonably) taken when Leclerc used this expression in a tweet. See above.
- natal women – a term, along with ‘women born women’, typically used by cis feminists who refuse to accept the neutral word ‘cis’. Cis women and trans women alike were born as babies, not women (thankfully!).
Edinburgh Evening News
This local newspaper has a tendency to become fixated on populist topics (trams and Gaelic are a couple that spring to mind – both portrayed as a waste of money) and is generally notorious for attracting a rabid commentariat on its website. The articles can be bad enough, but for your own health you should never read what’s beneath them. Opinion columnist Susan Dalgety’s article last week was a particularly nasty excursion into the topic of gender identity.
- men who self-identify as women – in the headline. This sets the scene for the article, really.
- a slash of red lipstick and a pair of New Look heels – a transmisogynist trope of the first order to get the article under way.
- confused young man – after all, what else could trans people be other than confused?
- sudden sex change – outdated/inaccurate terminology for transition. And sudden? There’s nothing sudden about transition, as any trans person will tell you.
- labelled a TERF … need to lock her social media account – yes, well, if you abuse people on social media, you should probably expect to be called out for it (though, as I said above, ‘TERF’ isn’t always accurate).
- … lobbed at women on Twitter – makes it sound like unbridled misogyny, though the term ‘TERF’ is usually only used of people who are dismissive of trans women’s lived experience.
- more than a love of lippie to make a boy a girl – as we all know (but why not make it sound as though this is what trans women are all about?).
- sudden influx of young male millennials who are self-identifying as women – let’s stop calling young trans women ‘male’, and it’s not really a sudden influx, is it? (And why the pop at millennials?)
- sisters who have fought so long and hard for equal rights – yes, why should young trans women benefit from this? Maybe for the same reason that young cis women deserve these rights despite not having fought long and hard either.
- if he changes his name from [deadname] to Lily – deliberate misgendering and deadnaming of an individual trans woman (in this case Labour Party women’s officer Lily Madigan).
- … and slips into a size 12 frock – oh, for goodness’ sake!
- [invading] a bloke’s privacy – talking about the current requirements of the GRA for medical diagnoses. Not ‘a person’s privacy’ – no, because we’re still fixated on trans women, and still calling them men!
- wait till he has a smear test, or gives birth, or … Oh wait, that won’t happen. – misgendering again and suggesting invalidity of trans women’s claims to womanhood. Oh, and hurting those women, cis and trans, who would love to be able to give birth but can’t.
- trans men joining the all-women lists – um, you mean trans women, don’t you?
- call me old-fashioned, naïve, or even transphobic – OK, I’ll go for transphobic. I think you’ve earned it.
And … breathe
I try not to read too many trans-hate articles, but every so often I dip my toe in this media mire – if only to check whether it’s still happening. I did read each of these articles earlier, but re-reading them to put this post together was still quite an unpleasant experience for me. If any trans-unaware person reads this and gets a sense of some of the dog-whistling that is going on around trans issues at the moment, my post will at least have served some purpose.